10/01/2016 4:53PM

Ectot upsets Flintshire in Joe Hirsch Turf Classic

Barbara D. Livingston
Ectot, ridden by Jose Ortiz, wins the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic by five lengths Saturday.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Jose Ortiz, aboard the front-running Ectot, came to the quarter pole of Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic with a clear lead and plenty of horse. He took a peak to his inside and then to his outside as he braced for an expected challenge from the overwhelming favorite, Flintshire.

“I knew I had something left. I was waiting a little bit for him,” Ortiz said. “I don’t want him to get the jump on me because the turn of foot that horse has been showing is amazing, so I didn’t want him to surprise me.”

The surprise, at least to those who made Flintshire the 1-5 favorite, was that Flintshire’s turn of foot was nonexistent, perhaps compromised by the soft Belmont turf. Meanwhile, the ground was a nonissue for Ectot, who kept right on going and galloped to a five-length victory over Flintshire in the Joe Hirsch.

It was 1 3/4 lengths farther back to Twilight Eclipse in third. Money Multiplier finished last in the four-horse field.

The win was the first for Ectot in two years and his first in three starts in this country since being transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher by Al Shaqab Racing. The win also earned Ectot a fees-paid berth in the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 5.

The connections of Flintshire feared that soft turf would be kryptonite to their multiple Grade 1 stakes winner. That fear was realized as jockey Javier Castellano said the horse struggled when he asked him to run with three furlongs to go.

“Usually, when you ask him, he’s got great acceleration, and he didn’t,” Castellano said. “He struggled the last part with the soft ground. Nothing you can do. I felt the ground was really soft, I don’t think he liked it much.”

Chad Brown, the trainer of Flintshire, said he knew there was a chance his colt wouldn’t replicate his prior efforts – wins in the Manhattan, Bowling Green, and Sword Dancer – over soft turf.

“I knew the risks going in; his record’s poor on soft ground,” Brown said. “I didn’t feel entirely comfortable just training him up to the [Breeders’ Cup Turf], so we elected to run him, and unfortunately it didn’t work out for him today. Hopefully, he’ll be able to rebound in the Breeders’ Cup.”

Pletcher felt the soft ground would help Ectot – a Group 1 winner in France three years ago – but a bigger key would be if the 5-year-old Britain-bred son of Hurricane Run would be able to settle early.

Ortiz said Ectot was a bit headstrong while running a quarter-mile in 24.78 seconds and a half-mile in 49.78 before relaxing on the backside.

“In the middle of the turn, I put my hands down, and he relaxed himself,” Ortiz said. “After that, I tried not to move on him. I knew I was going a nice rhythm – not too fast, not too slow. When he switched to his right lead on the backside, he pricked his ears and relaxed very well for me.”

Ectot received token pressure from Money Multiplier through six furlongs in 1:15.03 and a mile in 1:39.78. But at the quarter pole, Money Multiplier was done. Joel Rosario, on Twilight Eclipse, was all out. And Flintshire was not where Ortiz expected him to be.

“He didn’t have it today,” Ortiz said. “My horse gave me a good enough run, good enough to win.”

Ectot covered the 1 1/2 miles in 2:28.76 and returned $20.80.

It is likely the top two finishers will meet again in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita, where the turf likely will be firm.

“We don’t anticipate we’ll get a lot of rain in California, but at the same time, he’s run well on firm ground,” Pletcher said. “We’re delighted with his effort today.”