Nearly unbeatable at Belmont Park, Flat Out collected his fifth win from six starts at the New York oval while finishing much the best July 6 for his second victory in the $350,000 Suburban Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO).
The 7-year-old Flatter runner became just the third horse with multiple Suburban wins, and the first since Devil His Due in 1993-94, having earned his first stakes score in the 2011 Suburban for owner Art Preston. Since then he has registered consecutive victories in the TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup Handicap (gr. I) and a win two starts back in the Westchester Stakes (gr. III), in which he ran a career-best 115 Beyer figure.
Flat Out came off a third in the May 27 Metropolitan Handiap (gr. I) for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott to outclass four rivals by 2 1/2 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile Suburban, getting the distance in 1:46.87. In spite of only having one other win at the distance—his previous Suburban score—the hard-knocking bay was sent off at even money as the 119-pound highweight under jockey Junior Alvarado.
Pre-race excitement was managed well by the New York Racing Association gate crew, as 2012 Travers (gr. I) dead-heat winner Alpha broke through the barrier before the start, but did not manage to escape the strong hand of the assistant.
Flat Out broke alertly when the gates sprung open, and kept 7-5 Percussion busy through an opening quarter in :23.54 and a half in :47.22. Although Percussion opened a one-length lead up the backside, he was never without pressure from the eventual winner, who reeled him in again through three-quarters in 1:11.14.
"I was happy to see him break as well as he did, and then I thought, 'Maybe he broke too well,'" Mott said. "You worry about him going head and head. But then, he eased off the other horse and had a nice trip down the backside. He looked like he did it the right way. He just eased back, and... it looked like he went right to the leader when (Junior) asked him."
"I didn't want to take the lead at that point, but he was dragging me the whole way," Alvarado said. "He was pretty much the best horse in the race. I wanted to break and put him in a good spot, clear on the outside. The pace wasn't too fast. The last two races they had been going :44, so he was a little sharp going :47. He was great. Turning for home, I asked him, and he gave it all to me."
They left the final turn with Flat Out assuming control in the three path, the closers giving chase as a mile went in 1:34.93. But Last Gunfighter would see a a six-race winning streak snapped when Flat Out continued to draw away, and had to settle for nosing out Fast Falcon for second. Alpha was fourth and Percussion finished last of all.
Flat Out returned $4, $2.30, and $2.10 while Last Gunfighter paid $2.60 and $2.20 and Fast Falcon brought $3.50.
Javier Castellano said Last Gunfighter ran well coming off a strong win in the May 17 Pimlico Special (gr. III).
"Handicapping the race, I thought Alpha and Percussion would go to the lead, but Flat Out was much the best horse in the race," Castellano said. "I give him all the credit, he was sharp today and he broke on top of the rest of the field. My goal was just to keep track of him—he was going to be my target to go forward to finish strong, and Last Gunfighter did. I think he ran second-best today, but he ran a huge race and beat some nice horses."
"I thought he ran great," trainer Chad Brown said of the runner-up, John D. Gunther's homebred. "He was second-best today. Not only did Flat Out run well, he looked great in the paddock and acted perfectly in the paddock. When you are running against a horse like that, you have a lot of respect for them. I was observing him to see if there were any chinks in the armor, but Bill had him dead on today. I thought my horse ran his 'A' race."
Mott said Flat Out will likely target the Aug. 3 Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course; Flat Out was second in the Whitney in 2011 and third in 2012.
"If he would be doing extremely well, I would say we might take a shot at the Whitney," the trainer remarked. "I suppose that makes some sense, and then try to get him back here for the [Jockey Club] Gold Cup this fall. If he's doing real well, we'd take a shot at the Whitney.
"This obviously was an easier race than the last two," Mott went on. "He ran hard today, but he ran real hard to win the Westchester and then he got jostled around a little bit in the Met Mile, which may have cost him something. It's nice to see him bounce back. I figured when he went by that horse on the lead, he was going to be tough to beat from there."
Flat Out, bred in Florida by Nikolaus Bock out of the Cresta Rider mare Cresta Lil, collected his eighth win from 25 starts, improving his earnings to $2,945,383 with four seconds and four thirds already under his girth. An $11,000 pinhook from the 2006 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s 2006 fall mixed sale when purchased by Picturesque Farm when consigned by Thoroughstock, agent, he was purchased for $85,000 at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky select yearling sale by Oxbow Racing from the Bluewater Sales consigment.
He has now finished in the top three of 13 stakes events, 12 of them graded, with two grade I wins, two grade II wins, and a grade III victory.