Now that the Triple Crown season is over, it’s time to take a look at the older handicap division, and the older set got a boost as Paynter and Fort Larned put in impressive victories last week.
Paynter was making his first start since winning the Haskell Invitational (G1) last July at Monmouth Park. The colt had set the fractions in his previous start in the Belmont Stakes and looked like a winner in deep stretch only to get run down in the last couple of jumps by Union Rags.
The colt was sidelined after developing a fever just two days after his Haskell victory. His trainer Bob Baffert was pointing the colt toward the Travers (G1) at Saratoga, but did no training up to the race, and shortly after was sent back to Upstate Equine Medical Center in New York and was diagnosed with colitis.
Less than two weeks later it was announced that the colt was suffering from laminitis, and not only was his racing career in jeopardy, the prognosis for keeping the colt alive did not look promising.
His owner Justin Zayat kept racing fans informed of his condition through social media, and after about six weeks he was sent to Fair Hill, Maryland to continue his recovery.
It has been a long time coming, and I was not sure what to expect when the colt made his triumphant return on Friday at Hollywood Park in an allowance race.
The brilliant colt did not disappoint, drawing away by 4 ½ lengths in the seven furlong race, stopping the timer in 1:21.86. Visually the effort looked sensational, and his 114 Beyer Speed Figure helped to confirm it.
Baffert has not confirmed the colt’s next start, but he certainly looks capable of being a major player in the handicap division.
Fort Larned came into Saturday night’s Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) as a bit of a question mark after his rather dull fifth place finish in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) on April 13.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) champion made his first start in 2013 in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) on March 9 and stumbled badly coming out of the gate, dumping his jockey in Brian Hernandez.
Fort Larned Stumbles in Gulfstream Park Handicap
Despite not having a jockey on board he turned for home with a big lead and just looked really good drawing away from the field, but of course was declared a non-starter.
I was convinced he would run huge at Oaklawn Park, but he was beaten 10 ½ lengths in a puzzling effort. I tossed the effort and figured he did not take to the racing surface, and gave him another shot in the Foster.
We were rewarded with an $8.60 payoff as he jumped out to the early lead and took the field gate to wire to win by 6 ¼ lengths, earning a 115 Beyer.
He beat a solid field that included Golden Ticket, Ron the Greek, Successful Dan, Take Charge Indy and Pool Play, all Grade 1 winners except for Successful Dan, who actually crossed the wire in front in last year’s Clark Handicap (G1) only to get disqualified.
Fort Larned Wins Stephen Foster Handicap (G1)
While this year’s three-year-old crop started with so much promise, Orb turned out to be overrated, and Oxbow and Palace Malice are probably not up to beating older later in the year.
However, Fort Larned and Paynter, along with the likes of Game On Dude, Graydar, Sahara Sky, Flat Out, Ron the Greek, Successful Dan, Take Charge Indy and Clubhouse Ride, and it looks as if we should have a few competitive stakes coming up this summer and fall in the handicap division.
In addition it is possible we could see 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan back on dirt this year. His trainer Charles Lopresti indicated that the Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on August 3 is a possibility.