By Laura Villasana
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Fort Larned’s track record in the $100,000 Skip Away (G3) headlined the Florida Derby Day undercard, chock full of exciting finishes coming in the $100,000 Appleton (G3), $150,000 Orchid (G3), and $70,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes.
A challenge from Alma D’Oro around the turn and into the stretch was no match for Janis R. Whitham’s Fort Larned in the $100,000 Skip Away Stakes (G3). The 4-year-old colt ran away with his first career graded stakes victory, winning the Skip Away in a track record time of 1:53.92 for the 1 3/16-mile distance.
“The horse has really improved,” trainer Ian Wilkes said. “He’s four and he’s just maturing. He’s getting better and better and Mrs. Whitman…I’m so happy for her.”
Fort Larned took the lead out of the gate under jockey Julien Leparoux, but Uptowncharlybrown and Elvis Trujillo snuck through around the first turn to take the lead. When Uptowncharlybrown faded down the backstretch, Fort Larned took the lead back for good.
Alma d’Oro tried to challenge Fort Larned around the final turn and down the stretch but to no avail, as Fort Larned held on to win by 2 ½ lengths.
“Ian figured this horse out,” Leparoux said. “In his previous races we had been taking him back but when we let him run free he runs big.”
Fort Larned came into the race off of his first-ever stakes win, having won the Challenger Stakes at Tampa in early March. He finished fourth in his 4-year-old debut at Tampa in a handicap with Leparoux aboard.
Fractional times for the Skip Away were 23.93, 47.45, 1:10.60, and 1:34.66, with the final time being 1:53.92.
The previous track record for the 1 3/16-mile distance was set by Eddington, who ran a time of 1:54.74 on March 5, 2005.
Gary and Mary West’s Corporate Jungle had no problem managing his stakes debut, earning his first career stakes victory with a length margin win in the $100,000 Appleton Stakes (G3) at one mile on turf and remaining undefeated in 2012.
“We knew there was a lot of speed in the race so it worked out great,” regular rider Javier Castellano said. “I just sat off them and when I asked him to run he really responded. He gave me a good kick in the end. It was a nice performance. He galloped out really nice and I think he will go farther.”
As the 2-1 favorite, Corporate Jungle rated behind the front-running El Commodore and Decisive Moment. He had to go four wide around the final turn and held off a late-charging Trend, the third choice in the final strides.
Corporate Jungle’s three previous races were also run at a mile on the turf. After his maiden win in 2011, he finished second to Trend in an allowance in 2012 and captured a victory under the same conditions a month later.
“He should be set up now for a good year,” trainer Chad Brown said.
Brown said the Woodford Reserve (G1) at 1 1/8-miles at Churchill Downs on May 5 is a possible spot for Corporate Jungle’s next start.
Brilliant Speed, who was making his 2012 debut after a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), remained at the back of the pack for the majority of the race and advanced to finish fifth.
“It was way too short for him,” Velazquez said. “We were a lot further back than I wanted and he had too much ground to make up. In the lane he just finished evenly, but it was good race for a comeback.”
Stuart S. Janney III’s Hit It Rich struck big in the closing strides of the $150,000 Orchid Stakes (G3), earning her second career graded stakes race with a ½-length victory in the 1 ½-mile turf race.
“She’s a true mile and a half horse,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “Javier did a great job. When that filly (Aqsaam) went out in front, he just sat chilly and he had some horse left. When he pulled Keertana out I thought he’d better have some horse left because she’s coming. We were able to hold her off.”
While Hit It Rich broke well out of the gate, the previously undefeated Aqsaam ran off with the early lead in the 1 ½-mile turf race, pulling ahead by 14 lengths. Hit It Rich raced in third and the favorite Keertana ran from the back.
Hit It Rich advanced at the top of the stretch while the graded stakes veteran and millionaire Keertana had to go wide around the field. Hit It Rich caught Aqsaam in the final strides for a final time of 2:28.06 and held off Keertana, who had to settle for third.
Hit It Rich came into the Orchid off a second-place finish in the Suwanee River Stakes (G3) in February for her 5-year-old debut and back-to-back wins to close out her 2011 season.
McGaughey said the Grey Goose Bewitch (G3) at Keeneland on April 26 is a possibility for Hit It Rich’s next start.
E. Paul Robsham Stables LLC’s Travelin Man kicked off the Florida Derby undercard with a triumphant ½-length score, battling with Grade 1 winner Jersey Town down the stretch to take the $70,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes contested at 6 ½ furlongs.
Making his 2012 debut off of a 6th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), Jersey Town took the lead heading into the final turn with Traveling Man in close pursuit. A head-to-head battle ensued down the stretch, with Travelin Man taking over about halfway down the stretch and never relinquishing.
“I was very happy that we broke from the outside because I was just able to let him break and sit where he was comfortable as opposed to drawing inside and having to hustle him out of there,” Velazquez said. He got in the bridle when I asked and was very good today.”
The Sir Shakleton victory marked Travelin Man’s second win in 2012. He finished first in an allowance optional claimer in February.
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