By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
It isn't often that an ungraded stakes race on a Thursday
looms among the most intriguing betting opportunities of a given week, but this
general rule will be thrown to the wind when Belmont Park hosts the $80,000 Flat Out Stakes on Thursday,
Held over 1 3/8 miles on the main track, the Flat Out has
attracted a deep and surprisingly competitive field of nine long-distance
runners, including four graded stakes winners. Leading the charge is #4 Sir Winston (8-5), who showed an
affinity both for Belmont Park and for dirt marathons when rallying to victory
in the 2019 Belmont Stakes (G1).
Trained by Mark Casse, Sir Winston is an obvious choice
to win the Flat Out while returning to the scene of his signature triumph. His
victory in the Belmont wasn't a fluke either, considering he'd previously shown
promise when rallying to finish second in a fast renewal of the 1 1/8-mile
Peter Pan (G2) at Belmont. Furthermore, the stoutly-bred son of Awesome Again
kicked off 2020 on a winning note when closing strongly to claim a 1-mile allowance
race on Jan. 31 at Aqueduct.
But Sir Winston hasn't run since then, his campaign
taking an unexpected twist with the cancellation of the Mar. 28 Dubai World Cup
(G1) due to COVID-19. Sir Winston had already traveled to Dubai and wound up
coming home without racing, which means he'll enter the Flat Out off an
unexpectedly long layoff. Considering he's also stretching back out in distance
and stepping outside his age group for only the second time, I'm hesitant to
fully support Sir Winston as the 8-5 favorite.
Another established star is tough to trust as well. #2 Rocketry (7-2) has been a
long-distance specialist for several years and made headlines when breaking Man
o' War's 98-year-old track record for 1 5/8 miles in the 2018 Temperence Hill
Invitational at Belmont. But Rocketry hasn't won since November 2018 and was
beaten a minimum of 9 1/2 lengths in his final three starts of 2019, suggesting
this 6-year-old son of Hard Spun may have lost a step or two.
Instead of backing Sir Winston and Rocketry at short prices,
I'm going to throw my support behind #3
Moretti (8-1), who is stretching out beyond 1 1/8 miles for the first time.
Sold for $900,000 as a yearling, this improving 4-year-old is bred top and
bottom to excel running long. Sire Medaglia d'Oro finished second in the 2002
Belmont Stakes and has proven to be a strong source of stamina at stud, while
dam Rigoletta won the 1 1/16-mile Oak Leaf (G1) and counts Breeders' Cup Dirt
Mile (G1) winner Battle of Midway among her previous foals.
Moretti has shown flashes of talent at various points
during his career He broke his maiden running 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct and
briefly joined the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby, finishing sixth in the
Withers (G3) before heading to the sidelines. He returned to action in November
and has shown steady improvement since then, most recently rallying to a
clear-cut allowance victory running 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn.
I'm optimistic Moretti will thrive while stretching out
in distance, in part because trainer Todd Pletcher excels at conditioning
long-distance dirt runners. According to statistics from DRF Formulator, over
the last five years Pletcher has gone 10-for-34 (29%) with horses running 1 3/8
miles or longer on dirt, generating a positive ROI of $2.06 for every $2 bet.
Furthermore, Pletcher is 2-for-2 in the Flat Out Stakes,
saddling Hard Study to prevail in 2018 and Marconi to nab top honors in 2019.
Marconi, in fact, shared a lot of similarities to Moretti in the sense that he
broke his maiden going 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct, endeavored to join the Kentucky
Derby scene, and later relished the opportunity to tackle a short marathon in
the Flat Out.
This year's Flat Out field contains very little speed on
paper, so Moretti—who has employed front-running and stalking tactics in the
past—figures to be forwardly placed under hot jockey Javier Castellano. He
might even seize the initiative and set the pace, and if Moretti is able to
shake loose on an easy lead, don't be surprised if he gets brave and takes this
field all the way on the front end. At 8-1, I believe he offers the best value
in the Flat Out field.
For the exotics, Moretti's Pletcher-trained stable #5 Legit (8-1) is also worth a look. A
son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, who tends to sire long-winded
progeny, Legit impressively won his first two starts during the spring of 2018
before heading to the sidelines for nearly two years.
Legit has gone 0-for-3 since returning to action, but he showed
signs of life when rallying to finish second in a 1-mile allowance race at
Gulfstream last month. Stretching out over 1 3/8 miles could be a recipe for significant
improvement, and ultra-hot jockey Irad Ortiz (13-for-29, 45% so far at Belmont)
takes the mount. I expect his odds to drift higher than 8-1, making him a
candidate to blow up trifecta and/or superfecta payoffs if he finishes on the
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Flat Out
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.