NEW YORK (AP) — In just over an hour at Belmont Park, the Breeders' Cup Classic likely came away with its three favorites. Take your pick — Havre de Grace, Uncle Mo or Flat Out.
Each staked a claim as the horse to beat in the $5 million Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5 with stirring victories on a Super Saturday of racing over a muddy track.
"We're going to be there and try them," elated 70-year-old trainer Scooter Dickey said after Flat Out won the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup by 2¼ lengths over 2010 Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer, with Travers winner Stay Thirsty third. "This is tremendous, It's hard to fathom, but I like it."
In the previous race, the 4-year-old filly Havre de Grace left four rivals in the slop with an 8¼-length romp in the $350,000 Beldame Stakes to remain a leading contender for Horse of the Year.
"She has the speed to match up with them," trainer Larry Jones said of Havre de Grace, who beat the boys — Flat Out included — in the Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 3. "I'm sure we'll see Uncle Mo in there, too."
Yes we will.
Uncle Mo led from the start, held off a brief challenge from Jackson Bend, and won the $200,000 Kelso Handicap by three lengths to trumpet his return to the big time. Uncle Mo, last year's 2-year-old champion, was sidelined for 4½ months with a life-threatening liver disease and missed the Triple Crown races. He returned in August and was beaten by a nose in the King's Bishop.
And now this.
"I love the Classic" for Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty, said Mike Repole, who owns both colts. "I want to win the Classic. Why not take two shots at a race everybody wants to win?"
In earlier stakes races, Giant Ryan won the six-furlong, $350,000 Vosburgh, 1-2 favorite Stacelita captured the $500,000 Flower Bowl Invitational and 3-5 favorite Cape Blanco took the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.
The winners of all six races earned automatic berths into corresponding Breeders' Cup races as part of the event's "Win and You're In" program.
In the Gold Cup, Flat Out was fourth early on, running just behind Stay Thirsty with Rodman setting the pace. But when the field hit the far turn, Flat Out began his winning move while Stay Thirsty couldn't keep up. Once clear, it was Flat Out cruising to his first win since taking the Suburban at Belmont by 6½ lengths on July 2. He was second to Tizway in the Whitney Handicap before a 1¼-length loss to Havre de Grace in the Woodward.
Flat Out, ridden by Alex Solis, covered the 1¼ miles over a muddy track in 2:03.17. The 5-year-old son of Flatter returned $4.80 to win as the 7-5 second choice.
"It's about time, isn't it?" Flat Out's owner Art Preston asked. "He's a great horse — he's run a lot of good seconds and everything, and he just had the race he needed today."
For Dickey, the win was his first in a Grade 1 race in a career spanning nearly a half-century. And it came with a horse who was out of training for 20 months with nagging foot problems. Flat Out is flat fit now, having run six times in the past six months.
"You wouldn't believe how big this is," Dickey said. "I've been training since 1963."
Havre de Grace moved into the lead off the far turn, and jockey Ramon Dominguez was able to keep her under wraps in the stretch, with Alabama winner Royal Delta a distant second.
Havre de Grace, the 3-5 favorite, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.39. She has won five of six starts this year, her only loss coming by a nose to rival Blind Luck in the Delaware Handicap. She returned $2.90 to win.
Uncle Mo, with John Velazquez aboard, covered the mile in a speedy 1:33.82. Uncle Mo balked briefly before entering the gate, then shot to the lead at the start. The son of Indian Charlie ran comfortably in front as the four-horse field entered the turn. That's when Forego winner Jackson Bend briefly challenged but couldn't get past Uncle Mo.
"Jackson Bend looked like he was going to come right by him and Uncle Mo just kicked into another gear," Repole said, adding that the 1¼-mile distance of the BC Classic won't be an issue. "He can get the distance."
— Stacelita, the 1-2 favorite, was forced wide early but found her way to the lead at the top of the stretch and beat 42-1 long shot Distorted Legacy by two lengths in the Flower Bowl. Bred in France, the 5-year-old mare ridden by Ramon Dominguez covered the 1¼ miles in 2:10.39 over a yielding turf. The win was the second in four starts this year for Stacelita ($3), and 10th in 17 career races.
"It was a great, patient ride by Ramon," said Chad Brown, who took over as Stacelita's trainer in August. "She is a remarkable horse and she's had an outstanding career to this point. Hopefully she can cap it off with a win in the Breeders' Cup."
— Cape Blanco held off a fast-closing Dean's Kitten and won the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic by a nose. After moving out to a comfortable lead entering the stretch, jockey Jamie Spencer went to his whip in urging Cape Blanco home for his third straight Grade 1 victory. The 4-year-old colt bred in Ireland came into the race off wins in the Man o'War and Arlington Million. The winning time for the 1½ miles was 2:36.61.
"He's a tenacious horse and tries very hard," said Spencer. "The ground was very testing. It was sticky. His heart won it in the end."
The winners of both turf races had previously earned berths in their respective Breeders' Cup races. Stacelita's win the Beverly D on Aug. 13 earned her a spot in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, and Cape Blanco's Arlington Million win clinched a spot in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
— Giant Ryan, a 12-1 long shot, held off Force Freeze by half length in winning the Vosburgh — the 5-year-old horse's sixth straight victory. Ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, Giant Ryan ($26.40) covered the six furlongs in 1:09.10 over a muddy track. The son of Freud is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup, meaning owner Shivananda Parbhoo would need to come up with $100,000 to get his horse into the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Morning-line favorite Big Drama was scratched Friday night with a fever. Trappe Shot, the even-money choice, finished fourth in the field of eight.
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