Flat Out already has a win in the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Suburban Handicap and a pair of triumphs in the Grade 1, 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park to his credit. After Flat Out finished fourth in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in February at Gulfstream Park and fifth in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap in March at the Fair Grounds to begin his 2013 campaign, his Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, elected to enter the 7-year-old in the Grade 3, one-mile Westchester, Belmont’s prep race for the Met Mile, on April 27.
Always within 2 ½ lengths of the leader, Flat Out moved up to challenge Cross Traffic nearing the quarter pole and used nearly every step of Belmont’s 1,097-foot stretch to wear down the pacesetter and prevail by a head. Both Flat Out and Cross Traffic received Beyer Speed Figures of 115 for their Westchester performances, the highest figure for any race at one mile or less so far in 2013.
“We ran him at a flat mile last time, and he ran very well,” said Mott, who trains Flat Out for Preston Stables. “I had always wanted to try him at that distance. He’s doing well and the Met Mile is a very important race, and he’s a horse who won’t be compromised by [the one-mile] distance, which bodes pretty well for him.”
Flat Out was made the 5-2 morning-line favorite and 120-pound co-highweight for the Met Mile. Junior Alvarado has the assignment from post position 6.
Cross Traffic, the only horse in the field who hasn’t won a graded stakes, will have the chance to avenge his Westchester defeat when he makes his fourth career start in the Met Mile. He opened his career at Gulfstream Park, debuting a 1 ¾-length winner in January and romping by 7 ½ lengths in an optional claimer in March before his start in the Westchester.
“It’s pretty rare that you see a horse who has come that far in such a short time,” said Pletcher of the GoldMark Farm color-bearer. “He was an unraced 4-year-old at the start of the year. He ran a huge race in the Westchester. He just lost to a tough, seasoned veteran who seems to love Belmont. We were very pleased with his race, and he’s doing just as well or even better than he came into [the Westchester].”
In the Westchester, Cross Traffic left from the inside post, ran a half-mile in 45.33 seconds while racing on a clear lead, faced a challenge from Flat Out at the quarter pole, and bravely fought to the wire before yielding in the final sixteenth of a mile. Cross Traffic drew the rail once again in the Met Mile.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride Cross Traffic, the 3-1 second choice who was assigned 117 pounds.
Discreet Dancer won his first graded stakes when he dominated the one-mile, Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 9, then was third to Swagger Jack and Sahara Sky in Aqueduct Racetrack’s Grade 1 Carter Handicap at seven furlongs on April 6, his first start away from Gulfstream.
“The Carter came up a very fast race,” said Pletcher of the E. Paul Robsham Stables homebred. “He won the mile race at Gulfstream, and we think the mile suits him well. He’s coming up to it in good order, so we’re excited about his chances as well.”
Discreet Dancer, assigned 117 pounds, drew post 2 and was tabbed at 6-1 on the morning line.
Both Swagger Jack and Sahara Sky will face Discreet Dancer again in the Met Mile.
After finishing second in both the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship in February and the Gulfstream Park Handicap, Silverton Hill’s Swagger Jack broke through with a three-quarter length victory in the Carter, racing in fifth to the quarter pole, swooping to the lead a sixteenth from the finish, and holding off Sahara Sky’s late charge.
“His style is well-suited for the one-turn mile,” said trainer Marty Wolfson. “He makes one run, and there should be enough speed in the race to set it up for him. I’m hoping the race plays out similarly to the Carter.”
Swagger Jack, 12-1, will carry 118 pounds, including Irad Ortiz, Jr., from post 5.
Sahara Sky upset the Grade 2 Palos Verdes at 21-1 in January at Santa Anita, validating that score with a win in that venue’s Grade 2 San Carlos in February. The Met Mile has been his long-range target since the San Carlos, with the Carter serving as a prep race.
In the Carter, Sahara Sky trailed the field in sixth in the early stages, commenced a belated rally at the eighth pole, and was gaining on Swagger Jack at the end. Joel Rosario, aboard Sahara Sky in the Carter, has the assignment again in the Met Mile.
“I think [Rosario will] now know him a little better and, hopefully, ride him a little better,” said Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who owns Sahara Sky in partnership with Kim Lloyd. “I don’t think [the extra distance] should be a problem for him with his running style.”
Sahara Sky, co-highweight at 120 pounds, drew post 7 and was installed at 6-1 on the morning line.
Mark Valeski, a Brereton Jones homebred, is returning to the scene of his biggest win, the 2012 Grade 2 Peter Pan.
Sidelined for the remainder of his 3-year-old season following the Peter Pan in May, he was second in his return race, the Louisiana Handicap in January. He added a second graded stakes victory in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap in February and enters the Met Mile off a runner-up performance in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap on March 30. All three of his starts this year have come at the Fair Grounds around two turns. The Met Mile will be his first start around one turn since the Peter Pan.
“He handled the track real well [in the Peter Pan], and even though the race was a mile and an eighth he showed he liked the one turn,” said trainer Larry Jones. “He broke his maiden in a sprint, and he has more speed to burn than we normally let him use. They’ll be churning and burning out there, so he’ll have more pace to run at, but he blew out well the other day and showed he’s sharp.”
Mark Valeski, 5-1 and assigned 117 pounds, will leave from post 3 with Rosie Napravnik aboard.
The field also includes Fort Loudon, fourth in the Carter; Handsome Mike, fourth in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes; and Fed Biz, who returns to dirt after finishing second in the Thunder Road Stakes at Santa Anita.