11/30/2013 3:39PM

Aqueduct: Flat Out becomes oldest Cigar Mile winner; future plans up in the air

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Barbara D. Livingston
Flat Out storms home to leave pacesetting Private Zone in his wake in the Cigar Mile.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The race that launched the career of the mighty Cigar - and was ultimately renamed for him - may prove to be quite the swan song for Flat Out, who rallied past the pacesetting Private Zone in deep stretch Saturday to win the Grade 1 Cigar Mile by 1 1/2 lengths at Aqueduct.

Private Zone, at 32-1 the longest shot in the field, held second by two lengths over Verrazano, who got third by a neck over Groupie Doll, the brilliant mare who encountered traffic trouble at the quarter pole.

Clearly Now, who stumbled when he clipped heels with Private Zone at the quarter pole, finished fifth and was followed in the order of finish by Forty Tales, Goldencents, the 3-1 favorite, Saratoga Snacks, Laugh Track, and Capo Bastone. Praetereo scratched.

Flat Out, a 7-year-old son of Flatter, won for the ninth time in 29 career starts and the $450,000 he earned pushed his lifetime earnings to $3,645,383.

Earlier in the week, the connections of Flat Out were in the middle of negotiations to stand Flat Out as a stallion next year, according to owner Art Preston.

“We don’t have a plan yet,” Preston said immediately after the race. “Of course, we’re considering retiring him because he’s 7- ears old, but when they do this it makes you have second thoughts. . . . You’d like to run him forever; we have to be realistic about him, he’s 7 years old.”

At 7, Flat Out is the oldest horse to win this race in its 25-year history. The race was originally called the NYRA Mile, but was renamed the Cigar Mile for the horse who won this race in 1994 - the second victory in what would become a 16-race winning streak for the two-time Horse of the Year. Bill Mott trained Cigar. Mott also trains Flat Out.

“It was a pretty nice horse they named it after,” Mott said. “Great performance by this horse; I got to thinking [the mile] might end up being his best distance.”

Flat Out is best known as the two-time winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup run at 1 1/4 miles. But he won the Grade 3 Westchester - beating Cross Traffic - in April and was  a troubled third in the Metropolitan Handicap, both one-turn mile races at Belmont Park, where Flat Out had done his best work.

“This horse, I can’t say enough about him, he’s been a real tough durable horse,” Mott said. “I always kind of felt that maybe he’s as good at a flat mile as he is at 10 furlongs. He’s won the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice at 10 furlongs, but versatile enough to get the job done going a mile. Very nice horse.”

Flat Out benefitted from getting a clean, outside trip under Junior Alvarado, making a big move from seventh around the far turn and sustaining it through the stretch to run down Private Zone, who set fractions of 22.59 seconds for the quarter, 45.39 for the half-mile, and 1:09.79.

Flat Out, who was coming off an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic - a result that Mott called a head scratcher - covered the mile in 1:34.68 and returned $15 as the fifth choice in the field of 10.

“For him, I think it was the dream trip - outside, clear, nothing bothering him,” Alvarado said. “The speed was going very fast in front. When I asked him, he definitely gave me all he had.”

Private Zone, who had won the Grade 1 Vosburgh, gave Martin Pedroza all he had, but had to settle for second. That was the good news for trainer Doug O’Neill. The bad news was the performance of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldenents, who after getting bumped by a stumbling Saratoga Snacks at the break, chased his stablemate and faded to seventh.

O’Neill said Goldencents had “no real excuses.”

O’Neill said Private Zone “ran huge. It was one of those deals where the 5-2 runs like a 30-1 shot and the 30-1 runs like a 5-2 shot.”

Groupie Doll, under Rajiv Maragh, was following Clearly Now, who at the quarter pole stumbled after clipping heels with Private Zone. That forced Rajiv Maragh to take up on Groupie Doll and guide her to the outside. She made a brief bid in the stretch, but it wasn’t enough. She was beaten 3 1/2 lengths.

“He said she ran really hard and she did,” said trainer Buff Bradley, who was running Groupie Doll for owner Mandy Pope for the first time after she bought her for $3.1 million. “That’s the way it goes. Mandy did a great job bringing her up here. That’s why they load them in the gate. You have a good horse you have to run though; you have to see.”