Preston Stables' Flat Out is best known as a two-time winner of the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, but the seven-year-old veteran expanded his resume with a rallying victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who conditioned the race's namesake, Flat Out swept past the front-running Private Zone and kicked 1 1/4 lengths clear.
"This horse, I can't say enough about him," Mott said. "He's just been a real tough, durable horse, a horse that I've always felt may be as good at a flat mile as he is at 10 furlongs. Although he has won the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice at 10 furlongs, (he's) versatile enough to get up and get the job done at a mile."
Dispatched at a healthy 6-1, Flat Out was turning back in trip off an eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. That race produced the top two finishers in Friday's Clark Handicap at Churchill, Will Take Charge and Game On Dude, respectively, and its strength in depth was reiterated in the Cigar Mile.
Several of his rivals were coming off other Breeders' Cup events. Dirt Mile romper Goldencents garnered 3-1 favoritism from Verrazano, the 7-2 second choice in the wake of his fourth in the Dirt Mile. Groupie Doll, sold for $3.1 million to Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm following her repeat victory in the Filly & Mare Sprint, ranked as the 5-1 third pick. The 11-1 Laugh Track had just missed in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, while Private Zone was the 32-1 longest shot on the board after his 10th in the Sprint.
The all-star cast was attracted by NYRA's purse incentives. Breeders' Cup winners were racing for a $1 million purse, and Grade 1 victors (including Flat Out) were going for $750,000. Thus Flat Out's winner's check was worth $450,000.
When the gate opened, Saratoga Snacks took a nosedive, spotted the field a few lengths, and never made an impact. Private Zone, on the other hand, blasted to the fore and zipped through fractions of :22 2/5 and :45 1/5 on the fast track. His stablemate from the Doug O'Neill barn, Goldencents, chased, with Laugh Track and Verrazano also forwardly placed. Clearly Now was within striking range, Groupie Doll raced off the pace on the inside, and Flat Out bided his time while in the clear.
Clearly Now found room to advance into second on the rail, and traveled ominously well just behind Private Zone on the far turn. Unfortunately, he got too close, clipped heels, and did well to regain his stride and keep Jose Lezcano in the saddle. Groupie Doll, who was in the next flight, was forced to check and alter course as a result.
Stretch-out sprinter Private Zone gave no indication of flagging after clocking the six-furlong sprint in 1:09 3/5, but kept on motoring in the stretch. By that point, however, Junior Alvarado had stoked Flat Out, and the multi-millionaire was rolling into contention on the outside.
Picking up strongly the farther he went, Flat Out comfortably overhauled Private Zone, negotiated the mile in 1:34 3/5, and rewarded his loyalists with a $15 win mutuel.
"I saw Verrazano had about a half-length on (Flat Out at the half-mile pole)," Mott said, "and I thought, 'As soon as he clears you, just tip out, follow him, and give us a clear trip.' And he (Alvarado) gave him a good, clean trip."
"He broke very well," Alvarado said. "I put him in the race and made sure he wasn't too far back. I had a perfect trip. I couldn't ask for anything better than that. For him, I think it was the dream trip -- on the outside, clear, nothing bothering him, the speed was going very fast in front. When I asked him, he definitely gave me all he had. He's a very nice horse and he made a very nice run."
Private Zone was best of the rest by two lengths from Verrazano, who held the closing Groupie Doll by a neck for third. Clearly Now crossed the wire another neck back in fifth after his eventful trip. Next came Forty Tales, Goldencents, Saratoga Snacks, Laugh Track and Capo Bastone. Praetereo was scratched.
Jockey Martin Pedroza was delighted with Private Zone, and credited owner and retired rider Rene Douglas for suggesting this spot.
"He ran a brilliant race; there was no doubt about it," Pedroza said. "I give all the credit to Rene Douglas; he wanted to run in this race. He was right; this horse can go the distance. I think he can go two turns. He never stopped."
O'Neill had contrasting reactions for his duo. Elated for Private Zone, the trainer was mystified by Goldencents.
"(Private Zone) ran big. He ran huge. It's one of those things where the 5-2 runs like a 30-1 shot and the 30-1 shot runs like a 5-2 shot," O'Neill said.
"Disappointing (from Goldencents). We've got to try to dissect. (Jockey Rafael Bejarano) said (Saratoga Snacks) kind of stumbled and almost came over in front of Goldencents. After that, he thought he had him in a good spot, but just didn't kick on like we had hoped. No real excuse, just trying to figure it all out.
"Just a head scratcher, but we'll regroup. We'll go over them good and figure out a game plan."
Groupie Doll, just denied by Stay Thirsty in last year's Cigar Mile, was compromised by her troubled trip this time.
"The number 3 horse (Clearly Now) clipped heels and stumbled right in front of me," jockey Rajiv Maragh said, "and almost unseated the jockey at the quarter-pole. Before that we were in perfect position and running really good. I had to alter my course and by the time I got her running again it cost us a lot."
Trainer Buff Bradley was glad to get the champion back in his barn after the Keeneland November Sale, but was understandably crestfallen by how the race unfolded.
"Rajiv had some problems on the backside going into the turn," Bradley said. "You can't (alter course) like that on this track. We took a shot. (New owner) Mandy (Pope) did a great job bringing her up here. That's why they load them in the gate. You have a good horse, you have to run, you have to see."
Although Flat Out was winning his first top-level mile event, the son of Flatter entered the gate with a solid 5-2-1-1 mark at the trip. Both of his mile victories had come in stakes, the 2009 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn and the April 27 Westchester at Belmont. In his last attempt at a mile, he was a troubled third in the May 27 Metropolitan Handicap, but he had a perfect passage here.
Flat Out has now bankrolled $3,645,383 from his 29-9-5-5 record, encompassing seven career stakes wins and 10 stakes placings. Third when seeking a three-peat in the September 28 Jockey Club Gold Cup two starts back, the bay horse also boasts two wins in the 1 1/8-mile Suburban Handicap, first in 2011 and again on July 6. Flat Out was outdueled by only a head in the August 31 Woodward, his second runner-up effort in that race. Aside from two placings in the Whitney Handicap, he has also placed in such events as the Clark Handicap, Lone Star Park Handicap, Monmouth Cup and the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic.
Bred by Nikolaus Bock in Florida, Flat Out was a bargain $11,000 weanling purchase at OBS October. He was subsequently sold for $85,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling. He is out of the multiple stakes-winning Cresta Rider mare Cresta Lil, making him a half-brother to stakes scorer Our Best Man. This is the family of Grade 1 heroines Got Koko and Tarlow and multiple Grade 3 victor J. T.'s Pet.