Flat Out eyes historic victory
It would have come as no surprise had the connections of Flat Out announced his retirement at the end of last year.
The horse had completed his 6-year-old season with a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. One race earlier, Flat Out became just the 10th horse in history to win back-to-back runnings of the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. There were offers to stand Flat Out at stud, but owner Art Preston – who at one time ran a breeding operation with his brothers Jack and the late J.R. – declined.
“My interest is in racing. It’s so hard to get a horse like this,” Preston said by phone from Texas. “You’d like to see them race as long as they want to race and they’re good at it.”
Flat Out, a son of Flatter, has been good at racing, and nowhere has he been better than at Belmont Park, where he has five wins from six starts, all in graded stakes. On Saturday, Flat Out will attempt to win his third consecutive Jockey Club Gold Cup, a feat accomplished only by the mighty Kelso, who actually won five in a row from 1960-64.
“I think that’d be very historical. It would mean a lot to us, it really would,” Preston said. “The possibility has got us excited. Just to be in that position is terrific.”
Not only does the Jockey Club Gold Cup offer a $1 million purse, it is a Win and You’re In race for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, meaning the winner gets his entry fees paid for the race.
Given the physical issues he has had, that Flat Out is still racing – and in peak form – at age 7 is somewhat remarkable. He has had problems with quarter cracks, something that began in 2009 as a 3-year-old. Those issues plus a stress fracture suffered in his shoulder following a sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby conspired to keep him away from the races for 20 months.
In the last three seasons, Flat Out has competed in 20 consecutive graded stakes, winning five and running second in five and third in four more. Most recently, he was beaten a head by Alpha in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga, but still surpassed the $3 million mark in career earnings.
The Hall of Famer Bill Mott has trained Flat Out for the last year and a half, taking over from Scooter Dickey, who had him for his first 16 races. Mott said Flat Out’s durability has impressed him.
“He’s had his foot issues we’ve had to deal with but apart from that he’s just a real durable tough sort of horse,” Mott said.
Though he’s 7, Flat Out has run some of the best races of his career this year, at least from a speed figure standpoint. In April, when he rallied to beat Cross Traffic by a head in the Grade 3 Westchester, he ran a mile in 1:32.99, and earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 116.
Though he suffered his first loss at Belmont Park in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, Flat Out got shuffled back at the quarter pole, losing any chance. He rebounded with a 2 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2 Suburban, a race in which he stalked the pace from second, a change of style from the late-running tactics he employed in years past.
“The last few races we’ve had Junior [Alvarado] on him and we finally got him convinced he needs to be [closer], a length or two off the lead,” Preston said. “He showed that in the Westchester he can go a mile as fast as any of them can and have something left.”
Preston said that in some of his previous races, Flat Out would fall eight or 10 lengths off the pace and his late run would fall short.
“You can make up five or six lengths on these Grade 1 horses, you can’t make up eight or 10,” Preston said.
In the Woodward, a race in which Flat Out fell a head short to the front-running Alpha in the slop, Flat Out drifted out under Alvarado’s left-handed whip and though he came running once Alvarado straightened him away, he couldn’t catch Alpha.
On Tuesday, Flat Out worked four furlongs in 48.28 seconds over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga. He was scheduled to ship to Belmont on Wednesday.
How Flat Out fares on Saturday will determine his future. Preston would like to get Flat Out back to the Breeders’ Cup Classic – he finished fifth as the favorite in that race at Churchill Downs in 2011. After that, Preston will decide whether to retire him or run him again at 8, all depending on the condition of the horse and what potential stallion offers are made.
“Who knows if I’ll have another horse like this?” he said.