Arcadia, Calif.—Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott sent his two Florida-bred Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) runners over the Santa Anita track Thursday morning for light gallops while making some final preparations for the $5 million race that highlights Saturday’s card here. Mott will also saddle To Honor and Serve in the Classic for Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation located in Ocala.
Flat Out went first just before the break and despite having foot problems in the past, he seems to have few issues going into the 1 ¼ mile Classic.
“Well Flat Out has looked good since he’s come here,” Mott said. “Tommy [Willbey] has been shoeing him and he’s doing quite well. We’re trying to be proactive and protect [Flat Out] because he obviously has a little foot issue. But when [Flat Out] has needed protection Tommy has given it to him.”
Standing in Mott’s shed row at Santa Anita Thursday, Willbey explained that Flat Out puts extra strain on the quarters of his feet. To help support the two-time winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), Willbey has designed a “Z” shoe that provides even more support than a conventional bar shoe.
“[Flat Out] has an awkward way of landing; so to accommodate the way he lands and to help him be more comfortable, we have put the Z bar on him to eliminate pressure on his feet—mainly the quarters. In his case, it’s the inside quarter on all four feet so we’ve had the Z bar shoes on him for about three weeks. It just keeps him from beating on his feet. That’s all. And his feet are now doing fantastic.”
Mott said that Flat Out will not run in the specialized shoe but will change to a conventional racing plate the morning of the race.
After winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup last year, Flat Out went into the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs for then trainer Scooter Dickey and finished fifth, beaten just three lengths by winner Drosselmeyer, who was trained by Mott. He came back to finish third in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill, then sputtered and ran 12th in the Grade 3 Fort Lauderdale Stakes in January and fifth in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in February, both at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Owner Art Preston then sent Flat Out to Mott and he finished second in the Monmouth Cup (G2) at Monmouth Park in New Jersey and third in the Whitney (G1) at Saratoga before winning his second Gold Cup.
Bred in Florida by Nikolaus Bock, the 6-year-old son of Flatter has career earnings of $2,042,383. Flat Out has drawn post two and will have Joel Rosario in the irons.
Mott’s other two Classic horses have drawn further to the outside as Ron the Greek will break from post ten with jockey Jose Lezcano while To Honor and Serve will break from post 12 with jockey John Velasquez Jr.
Despite having three horses in the Classic, Mott said they should not compromise each other’s chances of winning.
“Ron the Greek is just a big hard trying horse that will give you his best effort every time,” Mott said. “You have to like the fact that he’s won over this track at this distance, [winning the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) in March], but they say the track is a little different since then. That fact that the track is a little different might be something you can put into the equation, but I’m not overly concerned about it.
They’re all on their own,” he said referring to his three Classic starters.” They all have different running styles. They all have different owners and I don’t think their running styles will inhibit each other. In fact, I think their running styles might help each other in some ways.”
Since winning the Santa Anita Handicap, Ron the Greek, who was bred in Florida by Jack T. Hammer, has finished second in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap before taking the Stephen Foster (G1) at Churchill in June. Since then he was second in the Whitney (G1) and a dull sixth in the Gold Cup won by Flat Out.
After finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, To Honor and Serve came back to win the Cigar Mile Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct and the Westchester Stakes (G3) at Belmont in April and May respectively. To Honor and Serve won the Woodward (G1) at Saratoga, then finished fourth in the Kelso Stakes (2) at one mile at Belmont, both races being in September.
Also carrying the Live Oak Plantation silks will be homebred Brilliant Speed for trainer Tom Albertrani. The 4-year-old son of Dynaformer has been third in his last two races, the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga and the Grade 2 Bowling Green at Belmont Park, both on the grass.
Brilliant Speed was the Florida-bred champion 3-year-old male in 2011, based mostly on his victory in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland.
Hess relying on Merit Man’s improvement and intelligence
When Florida-bred Merit Man made his first start at Del Mar in September, trainer Bob Hess Jr. wasn’t expecting too much from the bay colt.
“I don’t really hone my horses to win first time out,” Hess said. “So I told [jockey] Pat [Valenzuela] ‘that he’s about 80% fit; he’s a bit slow out of the gate; but he’s the best 2-year-old in the barn’. So I said ‘if he breaks slow, don’t worry about it.’ Well he did break slow but they left him some room and he didn’t get pinched off. He got out in a prominent position, got real tired and didn’t run on, but ran well.”
Merit Man ran well enough to win against special weight maidens in that race, and well enough to give Hess more confidence in Merit Man, who was bred in Florida by Hartley/DeRenzo Thoroughbreds and S. Barberino.
In his second start, Hess entered him in the $100,000 Tim Conway Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 6 and was even more impressed by the son of With Distinction.
“Since [his first race] he got a lot fitter, we actually broke him out of the gate again because he’s a super lazy work horse.
“In the Tim Conway, he broke like a shot and he was ready second time out and he should go forward in this race as well.
“If he works out of the gate he’s better, but those slow works are no big deal, that’s just him. In the Tim Conway, he broke on top and Pat just eased him back and he ran better.
“So I’m hoping he breaks on top in the Juvenile Sprint, but if he doesn’t, Pat can do whatever he wants with him.”
Merit Man has drawn post three in the Juvenile Sprint and is the 8-5 favorite in the field of seven today. Although he obviously has talent, Hess is just impressed with the colt’s intelligence.
“He’s not smart, he’s brilliant. Mellow, cool. His nickname is Cool Hand Luke. He’s just chill. He can work in :58 if you put him in company or put him in the gate, but if you work him by himself, he’ll go in 1:04. He’ll do whatever you want.
“What I like about him—when I got him up in New York, he was bomb proof. He was unlike any 2-year-old in training horse I’d ever received. He was like an old plow horse. As a matter of fact, the first time we worked him, he was so turned off he went the last quarter in :28 and just came back so mellow. If he gets beat, it won’t be his mind that gets in the way.”
Photo by Coady