On Saturday, Flat Out will attempt to improve his Belmont record to 4-for-4 when he carries the Preston Stables colors in the Grade 3, $150,000 Westchester for 3-year-olds and up.
After defeating Stay Thirsty by a head in the 2012 Jockey Club Gold Cup in October, Flat Out finished a distant third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Santa Anita.
Now 7, Flat Out finished fourth in his 2013 debut, the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in February at Gulfstream Park, then raced evenly to finish fifth, beaten four lengths, in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap on March 30. Both the Donn and the New Orleans were at 1 1/8 miles.
Junior Alvarado, who rode Flat Out for the first time in the New Orleans, will have the assignment again in the Westchester. Flat Out, whose Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott won last year’s Westchester with To Honor and Serve, will depart from post position 3 at 7-2 on the morning line.
Flat Out will be challenged by a trio of recent optional claiming winners in Big Screen, Rattlesnake Bridge, and Cross Traffic.
Dogwood Stable’s Big Screen, second in the 2012 Calder Derby, has won two of three starts in 2013. He annexed an entry-level optional claimer by six lengths in January at Gulfstream Park, then was runner-up when stepping up a level in February, also at Gulfstream.
Taken north, he cleared the second allowance level when he posted a 9 ¼-length score in an Aqueduct Racetrack optional claimer on March 23. He received a Beyer Speed Figure of 110 for the performance, tied for second among all races at one mile or less so far in 2013.
“We gave him some time off over the summer to take care of some minor issues, and he came back a lot stronger and more mature,” said trainer Tom Albertrani. “Hopefully that will be the key to him this year. He was very impressive [in January at Gulfstream], and that was a one-turn mile. I think he can be effectively at one turn or two. We feel like he’s on top of his game coming into the weekend.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride Big Screen, the 3-1 morning-line second choice, from post 7.
Mill House’s Rattlesnake Bridge took a Gulfstream optional claimer by a head on March 30, his first start since finishing ninth in the 2011 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Prior to the Breeders’ Cup Rattlesnake Bridge won the Long Branch at Monmouth Park and placed second in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga Race Course and third in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.
“The crazy thing is he never had any surgery,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “That says a lot about Mill House. We tried to give him time off, he bruised a cannon bone, we brought him back, he bruised a cannon bone, we brought him back. It’s nice that they were patient, and he’s doing great.”
Rattlesnake Bridge, 5-1 on the morning line, will depart from post 5 with Jose Lezcano aboard.
Cross Traffic, a 4-year-old, is the least experienced runner in the Westchester, having made two starts to date, both triumphs at Gulfstream. After debuting a 1 ¾-length winner in January, the son of Unbridled’s Song took an optional claimer by 7 ½ lengths on March 10 despite racing greenly.
“He’s an exciting kind of a horse,” said Michael McCarthy, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “He had a great work the other day [5 furlongs in 1:00.45] on the training track. Last year, he couldn’t seem to get over the hump, had a couple of little things, and it was decided to regroup. The time he was here he touted himself as a pretty nice sort of horse.”
Javier Castellano has the call aboard Cross Traffic, the 5-2 morning-line favorite who drew post 2.
The Pletcher stable also entered Mordi’s Miracle, second in the Grade 3 Excelsior on the inner track on March 23. Chris DeCarlo was named to ride Mordi’s Miracle, who drew the rail post and was tabbed at 10-1 on the morning line.
The Westchester field also includes graded stakes winners Winslow Homer and Pants On Fire, as well as Norman Asbjornson, who won his first stakes when he took the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial on March 16 at Laurel Park.