07/05/2012 3:23PM

King: Flat Out will be revitalized in Monmouth Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
The key to Saturday's Monmouth Cup is predicting which version, good or bad, of Flat Top will show up.

Flat Out has always been a difficult horse to figure. A good but unspectacular horse to begin his career, Flat Out suddenly became one of the top older horses in the country last year, only revert to ordinary form once again late last fall and in the winter.

Now his owner, Preston Stables, has essentially hit the reboot button, giving Flat Out a freshening and transferring him from trainer Scooter Dickey to Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

So the keys to handicapping Saturday’s Grade 2 Monmouth Cup, where Flat Out returns for the first time since a fifth in the Donn Handicap, is whether the two changes will result in Flat Out returning to the brilliance he showed last year, when he won the Suburban and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

This handicapper believes so. Although it appears Mott has not fully cranked Flat Out for his return, giving him relatively moderate breezes at Saratoga in preparation for his comeback, Flat Out is a horse who runs well fresh. He proved as much for Dickey, winning off an 18-month hiatus in an allowance at Fair Grounds in the winter of 2010, and then by running second in the Lone Star Handicap six months later off another layoff.

Furthermore, the mile distance of the Monmouth Cup is appealing, though Flat Out if accustomed to racing longer distances. He won the Smarty Jones at a two-turn mile as a 3-year-old back in 2009, and mile races tend to draw more speed than longer routes, which is good for Flat Out.

The Monmouth Cup is no exception, with four of the six runners – San Pablo, Ponzi Scheme, Sloane Ranger, and Rule – being front-runners.

This sets up a closer such as Flat Out to get a great trip, rallying behind a lively pace.

In a short field that doesn’t offer much by way of odds, 2-1 seems fair on Flat Out.

Suburban: Stay Thirsty likely overlay

Shifting my stakes gaze from New Jersey to New York, the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont Park, a race Flat Out won last year, is the day’s highlight there.

Mott is represented there by another top-class horse in To Honor and Serve, the 9-5 morning-line favorite.

Although he is the most likely winner, from a value perspective a better wagering choice exists – Stay Thirsty. One of the top 3-year-olds of 2011, he was given the spring off, with his connections no doubt aiming him for the major races in New York in the summer and fall.

His best races have come at Belmont and Saratoga, including a runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes and a third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last year at Belmont, and victories in the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga.

Yet despite his accomplishments, Stay Thirsty is a horse that people seem to question – likely in great part due to his inability to carry his form outside his regular base in New York. But no worries there Saturday; he’s playing a home game.

Expect him to move forward off his seasonal bow, in which he was a troubled second to Trickmeister in the Vanlandingham Stakes. At 7-2 odds on the morning line as part of a Mike Repole-owned entry with Caixa Eletronica, he is an overlay.

Royal Heroine: All Star Heart appealing

Lastly at Betfair Hollywood Park, All Star Heart is an appealing wager in the Grade 2 Royal Heroine Mile, run just before the featured Hollywood Gold Cup.

For a mare coming off three straight stakes victories, she surprisingly lacks a big reputation. The guess is that is because she has been campaigned almost strictly as a miler, thereby missing out on some elite filly and mare turf races going longer distances.

But she’s very good at what she does. A mile suits All Star Heart perfectly, and the training job Ron McAnally has done with this filly – developing her from a run-off, struggling maiden to a graded stakes horse – shows the veteran horsemen still can deliver, even if the depth and talent in his stable isn’t what it once was.

Similarly, little-used jockey Brice Blanc has clicked with the mare, riding her exclusively since her arrival in California from Canada.

Hopefully the presence of Quiet Oasis and Nereid, among others in the Royal Heroine, will result in All Star Heart going at 5-2 odds or higher. At such a price, she’s worthy of backing at the mutuel windows.