The main track merry-go-round at Santa Anita Park continued all the way to the final race of the two-day Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, as Fort Larned lead every step of the way as a 9-to-1 shot to hold off co-second choice at 6-to-1 Mucho Macho Man by half a length in the $5 million Classic (Grade 1).
On championship Saturday, horses shipping in from the East Coast won seven of the nine Breeders' Cup races before a crowd of 55,123 under picture perfect conditions at The Great Race Place.
"Fort Larned just gave us the greatest birthday present ever," said jockey Brian Hernandez in the post-race press conference after winning his first Breeders' Cup race on his 27th birthday. "When he left the gate he knew it was business time. We let him get in his groove and going into the second turn what made him a winner was that he was able to spurt away from that other horse and then held him off gamely down the lane."
Fort Larned was entering the richest race in North America off a third-place finish as the 5-to-2 favorite in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park on September 29. Prior to that effort, the four-year-old E Dubai colt posted consecutive victories in the Whitney Invitational Handicap (G1) at Saratoga and the Cornhusker Handicap (G3) at Prairie Meadows.
"When you got a horse that keeps getting better and better every time you take him over there, it makes my job easier," said trainer Ian Wilkes after also winning his first Breeders' Cup race. "Every time this horse has went to the gate he's brought his A race for us. The horse came back to his Whitney form today and that's what we were looking for."
No stranger to Breeders' Cup success is owner Janis Whitham, whose Bayakoa won consecutive runnings of the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) in 1989-1990 and said this win was, "As great. It couldn't get any better."
Mucho Macho Man tracked in second throughout, sticking to Fort Larned's flank early before the winner was able to extend the margin to 2 1/2-lengths into the turn for home and then hold the runner-up off as he battled back all the way to the wire.
"We both had every shot. Every opportunity. I got to his neck and couldn't get any closer," said Mucho Man's jockey Mike Smith, who won last year's Classic with Drosselmeyer and has won the last two editions of the Ladies' Classic aboard Royal Delta.
Local hope Game On Dude entered with an unblemished 5-for-5 record on Santa Anita's main track, but was unable to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his first win in the Classic, disappointingly finishing seventh after going off as the 6-to-5 favorite when he was unable to press the pace early and get into his comfort zone. It was the culmination of a miserable Breeders' Cup for Baffert, in which Executiveprivilege (2nd Juvenile Fillies) was the only one of his nine runners to hit the board.
Finishing 6 1/2-lengths behind the leading pair was Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out, who also went off at 6-to-1. He and fourth-place finisher Ron the Greek, sent off at 8-to-1 after winning a pair of Grade 1 events this year including the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) in March, did well to make up ground over a speed-favoring surface after being at the rear of the field early.
The Breeders' Cup returns to Santa Anita next year over the first two days in November. Fort Larned's connections announced he will return for a 2013 campaign, which means he could be back to defend his title in a race Royal Delta could also point for.
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