Don’t tangle with Flat Out in the Gold Cup

The athletic stride of the photogenic thoroughbred Flat Out is the striking bay’s most useful weapon. He’s long and he’s going to win in any race that’s going to be decided in the final 75 yards of flank-to-flank combat.

Now campaigning under the guidance of trainer Bill Mott, the lightly-raced six-year-old has made a tasty habit of winning the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Mott didn’t come to train the Preston Stables’ distance runner until just this past March. Flat Out hadn’t won any race since his impressive showing in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park in 2011.

Flat Out came to the Breeders’ Cup Classic off a win in the “Gold Cup”.

Mott was selected by Preston Stables to replace Scooter Dickey only after Flat Out had gone winless through three straight races.

In his first try after absorbing Mott’s methods, Flat Out was a close-up second in July’s Grade II Monmouth Cup. A fifth straight race without a win sailed by in early August in the Whitney Stakes where both Fort Larned and Ron the Greek finished ahead of the belated comeback of Mott’s new pupil.

The 2011 Jockey Club Gold Cup was run in the slop. And the flying mud didn’t seem to bother Flat Out as he dawdled behind the pace setters. When asked to move forward through the ooze, he kicked on past the three leaders and assumed the lead with most of Belmont’s stretch remaining.

Flat Out was a smooth-striding force at the finish line as he flashed past, winning by 2 1/2 lengths.

But he didn’t win again until this year’s Gold Cup. And it was anything but a leisurely stroll in the park for him.

The excellence of Stay Thirsty had gripped the Gold Cup for much of the nine-furlong distance. The track was fast this time, and Stay Thirsty had been faster than any of his competition.

But Flat Out was at his best that Saturday in the Grade I event that carried with it a $1 million purse. With Stay Thirsty off in front of him by about two lengths, Flat Out began to take inches off the lead.

Would he run out of race track before overtaking the Repole Stable chestnut?

Nobody held their breath either way.

With about 30 yards left before the wire, it was Flat Out bobbing ahead . . . and then staying there to win by a neck.

Said Bill Mott: “It looked like (jockey Joel Rosario) let him pick off a couple of horses on the backside, and he was doing it under a hold. That was a good thing. He hadn’t asked him to run. The horse was just striding out and picking up horses. Stay Thirsty fought on pretty well but Flat Out was ready . . . but not by much.”

The drought of close losses was no longer a topic of conversation.

Flat Out had joined very select company. The only others to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice had been Kelso, Nashua, Curlin, Skip Away, and Creme Fraiche.

Even at age six, Flat Out had only raced 19 times, winning six times, finishing in the money another six times, and earning a robust $2,042.383.

He had always been a leggy colt whose best years seemed months or years in front of him. Even in the early spring when he was five in 2011, he was little noticed by the racing world.

Then in July of last year he went off at 13-1 odds in the Grade II Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park. It was his first race at Belmont. He romped to a 6 1/2 length win over the likes of Hymn Book. But then he was second in the Whitney and second to 2011 Horse of the Year, Havre de Grace, in the Woodward Stakes.

His second successful Gold Cup venture gave Flat Out four graded stakes wins in his career and three of them have come at Belmont Park. His only graded win away from the New York track was in the 2010 Smarty Jones Stakes in Arkansas at Oaklawn Park.

A variety of nagging ailments kept him from being entered in the Kentucky Derby.

Flat Out not only inherited his pleasing appearance from his sire (Flatter) and his dam (Cresta Lil), but his family was as athletic as he is.

Last year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (where he went after winning the Gold Cup), he was only fifth to late-striding Drosselmeyer.

After racing unplaced in the Fort Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream and finishing second to Hymn Book in the Donn Handicap in early 2011, he was transferred from Scooter Dickey to Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

In his third race under Mott, he won this year’s Gold Cup.

That success qualified him for a race on the Breeders’ Cup card on the first Saturday of November this fall at Santa Anita.

It would be away from his favorite Belmont Park.

But trainer Mott and Preston Stables went for the jugular and tried for the upset on the world’s stage. The upset didn’t materialize as Flat Out failed to win his Breeders’ Cup adventure.

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