Pletcher Holds Strong Hand in Flat Out Stakes

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, June 11.

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 board.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Flat Out Stakes?


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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

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