Two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Flat Out reaffirmed his affinity for the Belmont Park surface April 27, winning the $147,000 Westchester Stakes (gr. III) by a hard-fought head over even-money favorite Cross Traffic (VIDEO).
Robert Preston's 7-year-old son of Flatter now has a 4-for-4 record on the New York oval, beginning with his first stakes score, a victory in the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) in 2011. In spite of running competitively in top company, including a third in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park, Flat Out had not won a race since taking the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont last September.
Prior to that start, the bay grinder finished third in the Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) at Saraotga Race Course and second in the Monmouth Cup Stakes (gr. II) for current trainer Bill Mott. He was third in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs for then-trainer Scooter Dickey, following a win in the Gold Cup of 2011.
Flat Out entered the Westchester off a fifth-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots March 30 and was piloted by jockey Junior Alvarado to victory. He ran one mile in 1:32.99 after coming under a vigorous ride to get the job done.
"He does have an affinity for this racetrack, and he showed it today," said Leana Willaford, assistant to Mott. "He had won going a mile before. Sometimes when you shorten them up, they finish a little stronger. Junior did a great job. He was aware Cross Traffic was the lone speed and didn't let him get too far away."
Cross Traffic, making his stakes debut and just third start for trainer Todd Pletcher, went to the early lead as expected with opening fractions of :22.77 and :45.33 under jockey Javier Castellano. He opened up a one-length with Big Screen in pursuit, and as they exited the backside Alvarado kept Flat Out angled a bit to the outside in good position to make his run from fourth.
At the three-eighths pole, the jockey went to the stick and Flat Out commenced a grinding three-wide outside move.
"I tried to keep him a little bit closer because I knew that Javier's horse was the only real speed," Alvarado said. "He broke well and I asked him a little bit. When I made the decision to go, at the three-eighths pole, he was still in hand. He kept cutting into the lead, little by little, but by the eighth pole I knew he had him. He's a really good horse."
Three-quarters went in 1:08.87 as the eventual winner set his sights on the frontrunner and dug in to wear him down. Although 4-year-old Cross Traffic proved a strong foe on the inside, the older horse wore him down in the final strides to post the narrow victory.
Sent off the 5-2 second choice, Flat Out returned $7.70, $3, and $2.10 while Cross Traffic paid $2.60 and $2.10. Rattlesnake Bridge was third, 11 1/4 lengths behind, and returned $2.30. Big Screen and Norman Asbjornson completed the order of finish; Mordi's Miracle, Winslow Homer , and Pants On Fire scratched.
With the Westchester win, Flat Out improved his career record to 7-4-3 from 23 starts, with earnings of $2,660,383.
Bred in Florida by Nikolas Bock out of the Cresta Rider mare Cresta Lil, Flat Out and was a $85,000 purchase at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky 2007 select yearling sale after going for $11,000 as a weanling at the 2006 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s Fall mixed sale.