Fort Larned, the winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, will make his first 2013 start Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
He is one of six entrants in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (Grade 2) at one mile on dirt. It is the 10th race, with a scheduled post time of 5:35 p.m.
Fort Larned beat Mucho Macho Man, a Gulfstream fan favorite, by a half length in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia Calif.
Since that race, the now 5-year-old Fort Larned has been at Gulfstream’s affiliate, the Palm Meadows training center in Boynton Beach.
“He has been training well and is ready, but I haven’t cranked him to 110 percent,” said Ian Wilkes, the trainer of Fort Larned. “I picked this race because I think it’s better to get him started back at a one-turn mile than at a mile and an eighth.
“This is the start of a long season.”
Wilkes said the goal is to get Fort Larned, a son of E Dubai, back to the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
Fort Larned is the 3-5 morning line favorite in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
Discreet Dancer, a speedy Todd Pletcher trainee who missed most of last year because of injuries, is listed second at 3-1.
Fort Loudon, a multiple stakes winner trained by Nick Zito, is 5-1.
What’s missing is a rematch with Mucho Macho Man, who is sidelined because of a virus.
Mucho Macho Man won last year’s Gulfstream Park Handicap against a field that did not include Fort Larned.
Fort Larned will return from a four-month layoff against challengers who have raced at Gulfstream this season.
Fort Loudon won the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship (Grade 3) at seven furlongs on Feb. 9 and finished second in two other Gulfstream stakes.
Swagger Jack, second by half a length in the Gulfstream Park Sprint, also is in Saturday’s field.
Discreet Dancer won a six-furlong allowance at Gulfstream on Feb. 6.
Fort Loudon, Fort Larned and Discreet Dancer have the second through fourth post positions, respectively. It is likely that Discreet Dancer will take the early lead, with Fort Larned and Fort Loudon close behind.
Fort Larned is the high weight at 124 pounds, with Fort Loudon next at 118.
Brian Hernandez, Fort Larned’s regular jockey, will be in from the Fair Grounds in New Orleans to ride. He has three mounts earlier on the card.
The field also has Gourmet Dinner, a career winner of four stakes, and long-shot Decaf Again, winless in a combined 20 starts in 2012 and 2013.
Fort Larned began his trip to the Breeders’ Cup by winning the Skip Away (Grade 3) at Gulfstream on March 31.
It was his first graded-stakes win, and he set a Gulfstream track record for 1 3/8 miles. He won two other graded stakes before the Breeders’ Cup.
“After the Skip Away, we expected he would keep improving, but that day we never would have thought he would win the Breeders’ Cup,” Wilkes said. “He had gotten stronger, and he kept getting more mature.”