Fort Larned White Hot at Churchill Downs
Fort Larned was glowing on his own beyond the night lights at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
He made his entrance into the paddock with authority and was literally dragging his handlers to the saddling stall. The always affable trainer Ian Wilkes and his wife Tracey (Fort Larned’s exercise rider) were equally focused. There were no smiles and kidding around for this pair – their gaze was focused on their horse, jaws tight and intense.
Brian Hernandez quickly found his own game face upon entering the paddock too. Fort Larned warmed up like a machine and from the sharp break from the gate, it was apparent to me that no one was going to catch him.
Fort Larned effortlessly clicked off fractions in magnificent huge strides with his ears pinned back against his head just waiting for Brian to chirp or even move his hands. At the top of the stretch he just extended his stride as Brian sat motionless. Dominant. Awesome.
In the winner’s circle, Ian could now take a breath but he still looked a bit in shock by the performance he just witnessed from his horse. For a man who is typically quite talkative, he could only muster a humble “thanks, he’s one special horse,” as a response to my congratulations. Fitting. Awesome. Get ready for a show in November!
Animal Kingdom - A Horse of the World!
My alarm clock will be set for Tuesday morning to watch Kentucky Derby-winner Animal Kingdom attempt to win the Queen Ann Stakes – the first race on the card opening day at Royal Ascot.
My friend, racing partner and former boss at Visa, Carl Pascarella and his wife Yurie, have flown over to watch their beloved AK. The couple is part of the ownership within Team Valor International and they have rarely missed seeing him run in person.
I’ve had the unique opportunity to live vicariously through Carl and Yurie with a ring side seat as they immerse themselves in this horse of a lifetime. There hasn’t been a Christmas card or correspondence that hasn’t included his name/photo on it – a framed, commissioned portrait hangs in my office and my monthly calendar includes candid snapshots of AK with Carl and Yurie; and AK’s half brother named Thursby now resides outside my kitchen window here at Deerfield.
I’m more than a fan and more than a little biased, but since I know the horse, I also have the benefit of saying that I have never seen him look better! He knows he’s good but he’s amazingly still willing and “trainable.”
Like his trainer Graham Motion, AK still has the ability to be humble and approachable despite his incredible success. Few stars – be it humans or horses – are often able to handle their success without becoming intolerable on some level with attitude. Animal Kingdom has been successful running on every kind of surface and the added fact that he’s done it all on a world-wide stage is even more incredible.
Understandably and probably appropriately, the connections involved with Animal Kingdom are trying to plan only as far out as ”the next race” as their goal. But, if he can win at Ascot with the same dominance he did in Dubai, we may all get the chance to see this grand horse back in the United States at Breeder’s Cup!