Runner-up to a pair of the country's top horses in his last two starts, Flat Out was not to be denied this time, as he returned to his favorite track and won the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) (VIDEO) by 2 1/4 lengths Oct. 1 at Belmont Park.
The victory earned the 5-year-old son of Flatter an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
Racing for Art Preston's Preston Stables and trainer Scooter Dickey, Flat Out earned his first grade I win in the 1 1/4-mile JCGC, completing the distance on a muddy track in 2:03.17 under Alex Solis. The bay horse won for the first time since romping by 6 1/2 lengths in the July 2 Suburban Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont. He ran well but was second to Tizway and Havre de Grace, respectively, in the Aug. 6 Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) and Woodward Stakes (gr. I) in his last two starts at Saratoga.
Flat Out was bred in Florida by Nikolaus Bock and is out of the Cresta Rider mare Cresta Lil.
Racing fourth early on while nearby Birdrun , who ran as a coupled entry for Preston, and favored Stay Thirsty , Flat Out chased pacesetter Rodman in the mud. With Rajiv Maragh aboard, Rodman set reasonable fractions of :24.17, :48.56, and 1:12.66.
Launching his winning bid midway on the far turn while inching past Birdrun first and then Rodman, Flat Out took over just before reaching the quarter-pole (1:37.29) and turned for home with the lead. He had a one-length advantage over Rodman at the eighth-pole, as a host of horses including Travers (gr. I) winner Stay Thirsty chased him into the stretch. Flat Out held all of them at bay in the final furlong, including Drosselmeyer, who closed from well back to get second under Jose Lezcano.
Stay Thirsty, facing older horses for the first time, held third, a half-length in front Rodman.
“He handled the (off) track fine," Solis said. "I talked to Scooter in the paddock. I said, ‘The track is playing really fast. I might have to use him a little bit leaving the gate to make sure we stay close.’ In a situation like today, I had to do that. It gets him out of his game a little bit, but it was something we had to do.”
Flat Out won for the second time in six starts this season and for the fifth time in 12 starts overall. His career-defining victory upped his earnings to $1,109,713.
"He seems to like this track; he’s 2-for-2 (and) he ran two real good races at Saratoga," Dickey said. "You can’t knock those horses he ran against there. This is my first grade I win; you wouldn’t believe how big this is. I’ve been training since 1963. It’s tremendous. It’s hard to fathom, but I like it.”
“We’re going to be (at the BC Classic) and try them. We’ll go back to Monmouth tonight and ship to Kentucky the day after tomorrow.”
The winning entry paid $4.80, $2.80, and $2.10. Drosselmeyer returned $6.20 and $3.70, and completed a $35.40 exacta (1-5). Stay Thirsty was $2.20 to show, and the trifecta (1-5-4) was worth $60.
Todd Pletcher was not at all disappointed with Stay Thirsty's effort: “Talking to Javier (Castellano), he felt like he struggled with the racetrack a bit. His comment was that this was a different type of muddy track than Belmont Stakes day, which was a really sloppy, splash-through-it type track.
"Flat Out is obviously extremely good at Belmont, probably better at Belmont than anywhere; that’s two big wins for him on this surface. To get beat a half-length by a Belmont (gr. I) winner (Drosselmeyer)…at the end of the day, it was his first time against older horses and we think he can improve on this,” Pletcher said.