Monday, July 8, 2013
Homecourt advantage for Flat Out, Moreno
As disappointed as New York Racing Association officials have been over the absence of Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park since 2005, there was a collection of horsemen on Saturday who would have been well within their rights to be equally dismayed.
Foremost among them were owner Art Preston and trainer Bill Mott, who campaign a 7-year-horse named Flat Out.
Put the 2013 Breeders' Cup at Beautiful Belmont instead of California's Santa Anita and Flat Out would be a leading contender for Horse of the Year honors.
Instead, at least at this point in time, he's a much better example of a Horse for the Course, a distinction that a 3-year-old gelding named Moreno seems intent on sharing.
On a steamy Saturday afternoon at Belmont, Flat Out and Moreno each posted a Grade 2 stakes victory that underscored their affinity for the cozy surroundings of the Elmont, N.Y. track. Flat Out took the $350,000 Suburban Handicap while Moreno romped in the $200,000 Dwyer as they raised their combined record at the NYRA track to seven wins in eight tries.
Flat Out has accounted for five of those wins as well as the lone defeat, a setback which was the result of traffic problems on the final turn that led to a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on Memorial Day.
On Saturday, he was more like the Belmont-loving Flat Out of old as the even-money favorite ($4) showed more early speed than usual, pressing the early pace of Percussion, then forged to the front at the top of the stretch and won by 2 ½ lengths.
"He looked like he did it the right way," Mott said. "He just eased back, and when [jockey Junior Alvarado] wanted him, it looked like he went right to the leader when he asked him. I figured when he went by that horse on the lead, he was going to be tough to beat from there."
Last Gunfighter, who had a six-race win streak snapped, was second by a nose over Fast Falcon as Flat Out, the 119-pound high-weight in a field of five, notched a second win in the Suburban, a race he previously won in 2011 at his favorite race track.
"That would have been nice," Mott said with a smile when asked if he lamented the absence of the Breeders' Cup at Belmont. "I guess it's a little too late to make that change now."
Not that Flat Out hasn't had his chance at securing a Breeders' Cup win. He was fifth as the 7-2 favorite in the 2011 edition of the mile-and-a-quarter Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, and third as the 6-1 second choice in last year's BC Classic at Santa Anita.
They were good efforts, but nothing like the performances Flat Out has turned in at Belmont. That's why, as much as Mott mentioned running Flat Out next in the Aug. 3 Whitney at Saratoga if he bounces back fine from running in Saturday's sauna-like heat, or possibly the Aug. 31 Woodward at the Spa, when he spoke about targeting a 10-furlong Grade 1 race in the fall, it wasn't the Classic.
It was the Sept. 28 Jockey Club Gold Cup, a $1 million race Flat Out won in 2011 and 2012.
Oh yeah, it's run at Belmont Park.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Moreno's dramatic improvement in two races at Belmont was due to a fondness for a main track known as "Big Sandy" or simply a coincidence.
On a steamy Saturday afternoon at Belmont, Flat Out and Moreno each posted a Grade 2 stakes victory that underscored their affinity for the cozy surroundings of Belmont Park.
Whatever the reason, the Moreno that romped to a 7-length victory in the Dwyer is a far cry from the bridesmaid Moreno that started his career on the West Coast.
He ran a combined nine times at Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Santa Anita and was winless with three second-place finishes. Trainer Eric Guillot even had him gelded in March.
But when Guillot shipped him to New York with another of his horses, Salutos Amigos, who would run ninth in the Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day, Moreno suddenly came of age. He won a maiden race by 6 ¼ lengths -- also on the June 8 Belmont Stakes card -- and then capitalized Saturday on a relatively weak field to notch his first stakes while going off at 5-1 odds ($13.40).
"This horse has done amazing since we have been here," said John Daley, an assistant trainer for Guillot. "He just really seems to have blossomed. All of his works have been fantastic. He's put on weight. With the way he ran in his maiden race, we figured that while we are here, why not take a shot [in the Dwyer]? We've been a little frustrated. We always knew there was a little more there. I'm just glad he showed his true colors today."
Daley said Moreno may return in the Jim Dandy, a July 27 race in which he might face Kentucky Derby winner Orb and/or Belmont Stakes victor Palace Malice. Based on his effort in the Dwyer, the son of Ghostzapper seems ready for a litmus test against Triple Crown-caliber competition, though there is one potential drawback.
The Jim Dandy is contested at Saratoga, not home sweet home for him and Flat Out, a.k.a., Belmont Park.
Based on his effort in the Dwyer, the son of Ghostzapper seems ready for a litmus test against Triple Crown-caliber competition.