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Discreet Dancer Avoids Mishap to capture Gulfstream Park Handicap
One jump out of the starting gate and the anticipation of witnessing the 2013 debut of Fort Larned spiked Saturday at Gulfstream Park. One jump more and hopes of watching the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner make a triumphant return were shockingly dashed as the 5-year-old star stumbled and tumbled, unseating jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.
Discreet Dancer, who managed to avoid trouble with an alert break from the starting gate just to the outside of the fallen 4-5 favorite, went on to win the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) with a thoroughly dominating performance over his four remaining rivals. However, his 5 ¼-length victory was overshadowed by the misfortune of Fort Larned, who picked himself up and showed the field the way to the finish line while running riderless.
“The second jump out of the gate, he stumbled badly and fell on his face. I don’t know what else to say,” said Hernandez, who was uninjured in the mishap. “It’s really weird because he warmed up better today than he did before the Classic. He was really on his toes. He did everything right until that moment.”
Trainer Ian Wilkes said Fort Larned grabbed his left front in the middle of the heel while “overreaching” in his second jump.
“Brian said he stood well and was just fresh getting back to the races. This was the first time anything like this has happened,” Wilkes said. “He’s a very intelligent horse and I’m glad he didn’t run off the track. We just want to make sure he’s OK, most importantly. It’ll take a few days to make sure he’s OK because he fell on his head.”
With Fort Larned out of the race, Discreet Dancer, the 9-5 favorite ridden by Javier Castellano, took total control of the mile handicap, in which he was slated to receive six pounds from the favored 124-pound high weight. The Todd Pletcher-trained 4-year-old pressed the early pace set by Fort Loudon along the backstretch before taking over the lead on the turn and powering away to a commanding victory.
“We were pleased with his first race back. We thought it was a good performance and we thought he’d move forward for this race. Obviously, we benefited from the bad luck for the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, but we’re happy to win and we felt he was going to give us a good effort today,” said Pletcher by phone from Tampa Bay Downs, where minutes earlier he saddled undefeated Verrazano for a dominating victory in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
Swagger Jack, the 6-1 fourth betting choice ridden by Joe Rocco Jr., closed to finish second, 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Fort Loudon, the 9-2 third choice ridden by Jeffrey Sanchez. Discreet Dancer, who captured a six-furlong sprint at Gulfstream on Feb. 6 after an 11-month layoff, ran the mile in 1:35.17.
"My plan was to break out of the gate and get a good position because my horse is a speed horse. My goal was to wait for Fort Larned and see where he would go. I had a beautiful post in the race and could do whatever I wanted. I could control the pace. Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for Fort Larned, he stumbled out of the gate really bad. Thank god both him and Brian are OK, but that's the game sometimes it doesn't go our way,” said Castellano, who rode five winners on Saturday’s card. “When I saw the horse stumble I thought I would be able to win, so I held my horse and didn't let him go too fast trying to save something for the end. It worked out perfect for us.”
Discreet Dancer has raced exclusively at Gulfstream Park during his five-race career that was interrupted by injury following a third-place finish in last year’s Fountain of Youth (G2) – his only loss. He’s not likely to make his sixth start at Gulfstream.
“It’s doubtful we’ll be able to run him back at Gulfstream, so we’ll just take our time and figure it out,” Pletcher said.