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Gulfstream News & Notes
Hernandez, Fort Larned to Reunite in Gulfstream Park Handicap
Brian Hernandez Jr. had originally planned to ride fulltime at the current Gulfstream Park meeting, only to make a last-minute decision to return to Fair Grounds for the winter. However, there will be no keeping the 27-year-old Louisiana native away from the Hallandale Beach track on Saturday, when he is scheduled to ride Fort Larned in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap.
Hernandez, who had ridden under the radar since being honored as the country’s champion apprentice in 2004 with an Eclipse Award, experienced a breakout moment when he guided Fort Larned to victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 3. Hernandez had built a solid career since winning 243 races in 2004, as evidenced by his 1000th career victory last summer at Ellis Park, but nothing can spark a jockey’s career more than a victory in the country’s richest race with the whole Thoroughbred world watching.
“This is life-changing,” said Hernandez, whose heads-up ride aboard Fort Larned was worth $270,000 to the son of still-active Brian Hernandez, who has won nearly 1300 races during 24 years of riding primarily in Louisiana.
Hernandez was given the opportunity to ride in bigger races by Fort Larned’s trainer Ian Wilkes, and he came through with the flying colors of owner-breeder Janis Whitham. It was a matter of being at the right place at the most opportune moment that aided Hernandez in joining the Fort Larned team.
“I got lucky. I rode him in a two-other-than (allowance at Churchill Downs) in the fall (of 2011) that he won. Then he went down to Florida with the rest of Ian’s horses and I didn’t get back on him until the Cornhusker in Iowa (June 30),” Hernandez said. “The only reason I got to ride him in the Cornhusker is because I was there that night to ride the Oaks for Rusty Arnold and Julien (Leparoux) had another mount in the Cornhusker.”
Fort Larned, who won the Skip Away (G3) at Gulfstream in track-record time, went unchallenged in a front-running three-length victory at Prairie Meadows over the heavily favored Successful Dan, ridden by Leparoux. Hernandez and the son of E Dubai came right back to capture the Whitney Handicap (G1) at Saratoga with a sharp off-the-pace score. A solid third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) behind defending champ Flat Out at Belmont set up Fort Larned for his stunning Classic triumph.
Years of hard work gave Hernandez a special appreciation for his Classic success.
“You get up every morning and go to work every day. You get knocked down more than you get pushed up,” said Hernandez, who ranks fourth in the jockey’s standings at Fair Grounds. “But you have to get up every day with a smile and go out there and work as many horses as you can and hope for the best, and hope you find a Fort Larned out there.”
Hernandez’s dedication to his career didn’t go unnoticed by the man who provided him the horse who gave him the ride of his life.
“He rides a good race; he always has ridden a good race. Sometimes, he just hasn’t had enough horse underneath him,” said Wilkes, who has regularly provided mounts for Hernandez in Kentucky. “He puts a horse in position to win a race. That’s the main thing.”
‘Loudon’ Set for Battle of ‘Forts’ in Gulfstream Park Handicap
Coming off a game and sharp triumph in the $150,000 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship (G3), Fort Loudon is scheduled to step up in distance and class Saturday. The Nick Zito-trained 4-year-old, who’ll be asked to stretch out from seven furlongs to a mile, is set to clash with Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Fort Larned in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2).
“The race is ideal for him. These are the kind of races this particular horse likes to run in. Hopefully, he stays the way he was last time. I don’t see a reason why not because he’s had some great weeks,” trainer Nick Zito said.
Fort Loudon has raced twice in a one-turn mile race, a fourth-place finish in the 2011 Holy Bull (G1) at Gulfstream and a second-place finish behind Neck n Neck in the 2012 Ack Ack Handicap (G3).
Fort Loudon has run three times at the Gulfstream Park meeting, finishing second against Bahamian Squall in the $100,000 Sunshine State at six furlongs and a distant third behind Ron the Greek in the Sunshine Millions Classic at 1 1/8 miles before capturing the Gulfstream Sprint.
“He’s tough as nails. He’s going to have to be, obviously,” Zito said. “I’m happy the way he’s training and acts the way he acts. He usually comes to run all the time.”
Fort Loudon is scheduled to be in receipt of six pounds from 124-pound highweight Fort Larned in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
“It helps him if they’re going to the wire together. If he happens to be in a head duel like he was last time, it’ll help,” Zito said. “I hope it’s between the two Forts.”
Jose Lezcano has the return mount aboard the Florida-bred son of Awesome of Course.
Channel Lady to Return in Honey Fox
Channel Lady, who captured the Suwannee River (G3) in her most recent start, is scheduled to return in the $150,000 Honey Fox (G2) at Gulfstream on March 16. The 4-year-old daughter of English Channel, who had previously finished a close second in the Marshua’s River (G3) at Gulfstream, set a controlled pace under Javier Castellano before holding off a late-charging Abaco by three-quarters of a length on Feb. 9.
“She’s very, very consistent. She shows up every morning and does her job and she shows up in the afternoon and does the same,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, whose 4-year-old filly will be cutting back from 1 1/8 miles to a mile on turf for the Honey Fox. She has a win and a second in two starts at the distance.
Channel Lady, who debuted with an off-the-board finish in an off-the-turf race at Gulfstream last season, has races six times on turf, producing four victories and two seconds.
Pletcher trainer her sire, English Channel, a multiple-Grade 1 stakes winner who was retired directly following a victory in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Monmouth Park.
“From a physical standpoint, she looks a lot like English Channel, which is tempting me to want to stretch her out at some point, which we may do,” Pletcher said. “She’s just a pleasure to be around. She’s very straightforward, very professional.”