05/25/2013 1:36PM

Belmont Park: Flat Out perfect on the surface for Met Mile

Courtney Heeney
Flat Out (left) is 4 for 4 over Belmont’s main track, including this victory over Cross Traffic in the Grade 3 Westchester last month.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Two longstanding handicapping methods will be tested Monday at Belmont Park when Flat Out runs in the Grade 1, $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap, one of the most prestigious races on the New York Racing Association calendar.

Those who subscribe to the horses-for-courses angle will put their money on Flat Out, who is 4 for 4 over Belmont’s main track – 3 for 19 everywhere else – including two wins in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup as well as victories in last year’s Grade 2 Suburban and last month’s Grade 3 Westchester.

Those who subscribe to the bounce theory, which suggests that a horse will regress after putting out a lifetime-best performance, will look to beat Flat Out with one of the other eight runners in the field. When Flat Out defeated Cross Traffic by a head in the April 27 Westchester, he ran a mile in 1:32.99 – the third-fastest of 51 Westchesters run at the distance – and earned a lifetime-best Beyer Speed Figure of 115.

For his part, trainer Bill Mott said he has seen all positive signs from Flat Out since the Westchester. The 7-year-old has put in two bullet workouts over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga in between the Westchester and the Met, one of the few races missing from Mott’s Hall of Fame r é sum é .

“You wouldn’t think he could be doing any better,” said Mott, who has Junior Alvarado to ride Flat Out from post 6.

If he wins, Flat Out would join Stymie (1948) and Forego (1977) as the only 7-year-olds to win the Met Mile, which is being run for the 120th time.

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The 4-year-old Cross Traffic ran a remarkably gritty race for the third start of his career when he finished second in the Westchester. Breaking from the rail, Cross Traffic set a fast early pace and didn’t switch leads until very late while giving way grudgingly. Still, he finished 11 1/4 lengths clear of the rest of the field.

Cross Traffic was saddled again with the rail for the Met Mile, much to the disdain of his trainer, Todd Pletcher, who would have liked rider John Velazquez to have had some options at the break. “You got to do enough to secure your position,” said Pletcher, who also wasn’t thrilled with Discreet Dancer’s post 2 draw. “I think Fort Loudon would be the other pace factor in the race. We’ll get some position and let Johnny figure it out.”

The key to the Met Mile may be how much pressure Cross Traffic gets early from Fort Loudon, who has been a pace factor in his last three starts, and/or Fed Biz. Fort Loudon pressed the pace in winning the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship. He also pressed the pace in the Grade 1 Carter before finishing fourth behind Met Mile contenders Swagger Jack, Sahara Sky, and Discreet Dancer.

Though he had been in good form in south Florida this winter, Swagger Jack was let go at 15-1 in the Carter. He came with a four-wide move in the stretch to win the Carter by three-quarters of a length.

Trainer Marty Wolfson believes a mile is a better distance for Swagger Jack and is expecting another top effort from his 5-year-old son of Smart Strike on Monday.

“The mile has been his best distance,” Wolfson said. “The mile gives him a little more to get him going. I think he can wait a little longer. I like the post, with all the speed on the inside.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. will ride Swagger Jack from post 5. The last horse to win the Carter and Met Mile in the same year was Pico Central in 2004.

Though the pace was swift in the Carter, Sahara Sky may have been left with too much to do in attempting to rally from last under Joel Rosario.

Trainer and co-owner Jerry Hollendorfer is hopeful that Rosario learned something about the horse whom he had previously ridden two years ago. “Joel had ridden him before, but a long time ago,” Hollendorfer said. “Maybe the horse was back a little too far. Most of the good riders, when you put them on for the second time, they usually ride a better race.”

Sahara Sky will break from post 7.

Mark Valeski returns to Belmont Park, where last year he won the Grade 2 Peter Pan after skipping the Kentucky Derby. A knee chip discovered in subsequent training ended his 3-year-old season, but Mark Valeski has come back with a win and two seconds from three starts this year. He is being reunited with Rosie Napravnik, who was not aboard when Mark Valeski was beaten by Graydar in the New Orleans Handicap.

“I thought we did everything well; it’s just that Graydar just kind of ran by him the last part,” said Larry Jones, the trainer of Mark Valeski. “He’s been working lights-out, and he sure galloped nice this morning.”

Handsome Mike has only three wins to his credit, but one came in the Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby last fall, and the other in the Grade 3 Commonwealth at seven furlongs at Keeneland last month. Mario Gutierrez rides.

Fed Biz has made his last two starts on turf for trainer Bob Baffert but returns to dirt, a surface on which he won the Grade 2 San Fernando at Santa Anita in January.

The Met Mile goes as race 10 on an 11-race Memorial Day card that begins at 1:05 p.m. The Met is the anchor leg of an all-stakes pick four – along with the Sands Point, Ogden Phipps and Acorn – that will have a guaranteed pool of $500,000.

There also is a Belmont cooler bag giveaway Monday with paid admission.