Aiken-trained Alpha to challenge Whitney Handicap favorite

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Fort Larned will be a clear favorite when he faces seven opponents in Saturday’s $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap at Saratoga Race Course.

He faces an accomplished group that includes Ron the Greek, runner-up in the 2012 Whitney. Also in the field is Godolphin Racing’s Alpha, the 2012 Aiken-trained horse of the year, who finished last year’s Travers Stakes in a dead heat with Golden Ticket, and multiple stakes-winners Mucho Macho Man and Successful Dan.

Fort Larned, the 5-year-old winner of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic, will be trying to win consecutive runnings of the 1 1/8-mile Whitney and comes off an impressive victory in the June 15 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Only Discovery, who won this race three times from 1934 to 1936, has won consecutive runnings of the Whitney.

“He’s coming into the race great. To win back-to-back Whitneys would be quite an accomplishment,” said Ian Wilkes, who trains Fort Larned for owner Janis R. Whitham. “To stay in good form and be able to have a chance to do that says something about the horse.”

Brian Hernandez Jr. will ride Fort Larned, who will carry high weight, 122 pounds.

The late developing and lightly raced Cross Traffic, second choice to 7-5 Fort Larned on the morning line, was most recently a narrowly beaten runner-up in the prestigious Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park and poses a clear threat to the favorite.

HAMBLETONIAN: Chuck Sylvester believes heat racing will make the $1.2 million Hambletonian a wide-open affair.

And the 73-year-old should know. He has trained four winners in trotting’s biggest race and will be going for a record-tying fifth on Saturday when he sends out Spider Blue Chip in the third and final heat at the Meadowlands Racetrack on Saturday.

The top three finishers in the heats and the fourth-place finisher with the most earnings will return later in the afternoon in the final, where the winner can claim the Hambletonian.

This marks the first time since 1996 that the Hambletonian Society has reverted to a heat format. For the past 17 years, eliminations were held the week before the final.


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