Could the karma have gotten any more powerful at the south end of Clare Court this weekend?
Ian Wilkes’ Barn 6, the last in a line of barns inside the small jogging track, housed Onion in 1973, when Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens trained him to an upset of Secretariat in the Whitney at Saratoga Race Course.
Jerkens is next door in Barn 5 now, but No. 6 produced another Whitney winner on Saturday, when Fort Larned beat Ron the Greek by a length and a quarter under Brian Hernandez, who was riding in his first race ever at Saratoga.
One race before that, Jerkens saddled Emma’s Encore to a win in the Grade I Prioress, so, although you’d be hard-pressed to find two less flamboyant operations on the Saratoga backstretch, that spot was oozing with a double dose of good feeling on Sunday morning.
“Absolutely. Oh, yeah,” Jerkens said. “For me to win a Grade I at this stage is great. You have to be happy with that.”
“I talked to him yesterday morning about his race before the races, yesterday morning, and I saw him this morning circulating, and some guy took a picture of us,” Wilkes said. “That was good. It’s an honor to be associated and talked in the same sentence as the Chief, winning a Grade I on the same day. He’s a legend, what he’s done for racing.”
Another parallel between the two barns is that neither is sure when or where their newly minted Grade I winners will run next.
Wilkes said he needs to see Fort Larned fully recovered from the Whitney before he considers running back in the Woodward in four weeks, and it will take more than a few days to determine that.
“When I come off Cloud 9, ask me then,” he said. “I don’t know. The horse will tell me, and I hate to say that. But I just don’t know yet. We’ll see how he bounces out. How to explain that is you watch your horse, you know your horse. You’ve just got to know him. Is he going to be knocked out for an extended period? Then you’re not going to come into the race the right way. That’s what you want to see.”
What Wilkes does know is that adding blinkers two starts ago was the right move.
He started by using a three-quarter cup during training, and when Fort Larned responded well to that, Wilkes went with a narrow “cheater” cup just wide enough to keep Fort Larned from seeing jockey Brian Hernandez.
“It’s just a little cup on the outside,” Wilkes said. “He doesn’t see the rider, so he listens instead of watching the rider. It’s better to listen than watching.
“I was toiling away with him. It was something I just couldn’t quite figure out. I always believed this horse had talent. I always thought he had more talent than he was giving me. I just had to find something to turn the corner. I put the blinkers on and I let him run. I told Brian, don’t take ahold of him, let the horse run, let’s see what we do. I let him run, and he hasn’t looked back since.”
Wilkes was an assistant to Hall of Famer Carl Nafzger when he had horses like Street Sense, Banshee Breeze and Travers winner Unshaded in Barn 6.
As he and owner Janis Whitham plot a course for Fort Larned’s future, they have two things to consider, the potential for year-end awards, and the fact that they plan to race him next year at 5.
“I haven’t even thought of that, because I’ve won one Grade I, and I’m a little behind,” he said. “It’s a case of what’s best for the horse. He’s going to be around next year. Now that we’ve established where we are, we can sit down and knock out a plan for what our goals will be for next year.”
Jerkens said that Emma’s Encore was “walking pretty spritely” the morning after winning the Prioress, but running back in the seven-furlong Grade I Test on Travers Day Aug. 25 may be a little too soon to come back.
“The Test is a big race, $500,000, but it’s three weeks, so we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” he said. “But anyway, we got this one, so we’ll be happy about that.”
He wouldn’t rule out the possibility of stretching her out eventually, or even re-examining running her on turf, which she did at Kentucky Downs in September before coming to his barn.
SARATOGA’S DAVIS DEBUTS
Saratoga High School graduate Dylan Davis, son of former rider Robbie Davis, will begin his career as a jockey today with five mounts on the card.
He’s riding four horses for trainer Wesley Ward and one for his father, Sandyinthesun.
Sandyinthesun gave Robbie Davis his first win as a trainer at Aqueduct on Dec. 3, ridden by his daughter, Jackie, who is a fixture in the Suffolk Downs riding colony.
There’s a good chance that Donegal Racing Stable will take another crack at the With Anticipation, Saratoga’s graded turf stakes for 2-year-olds.
Craving Carats and jockey Joel Rosario won at a mile and a sixteenth on the Mellon turf course in Saturday’s fifth race, giving Ray Bryan of Saratoga Springs his first win at Saratoga as a Donegal partner.
Trainer Dale Romans said the Aug. 30 With Anticipation was the logical next spot for the son of Street Sense.
“I thought he ran great,” Romans said. “I didn’t expect him to be on the lead like that, I thought he’d be stalking just off the pace, but it looked like he was traveling easy and came home pretty well.”
Bryan, who also owns part of Grade I Blue Grass winner and Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Dullahan, said the win was extra special because his daughters, Elizabeth and Charlotte, were able to be here to watch this one.
“It’s just fantastic,” said Bryan, a Skidmore College graduate. “It’s my favorite win because my girls are with me. Saratoga is my home, and I just love winning a race here. I was yelling, “Wire, wire, wire” with about a furlong to go.”