08/02/2012 4:08PM

Saratoga: Mott takes two shots at Whitney Handicap

Tom Keyser
Flat Out (above) and Ron the Greek will give trainer Bill Mott two solid shots at his first Whitney Handicap victory.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Even if he wasn’t running the dual Grade 1 winner Ron the Greek in Saturday’s $750,000 Whitney Handicap Invitational, trainer Bill Mott would still feel good about his chances of winning the prestigious Grade 1 race at Saratoga.

That’s because Mott also will saddle Flat Out, last year’s Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, in the Whitney, and though he’ll likely be a longer price than Ron the Greek, his chances to succeed are equally as good, if not better, than his stablemate.

The Whitney tops a 12-race card that also includes the Grade 1 Prioress for 3-year-old fillies. The Whitney is a Win and You’re In race for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic to be run Nov. 3 at Santa Anita. The Whitney winner gets his entry fees paid and a $10,000 travel stipend toward the trip to California.

Flat Out finished fifth as the 7-2 favorite in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. Flat Out, who finished second in both the Whitney and Woodward a year ago when trained by Scooter Dickey, makes his second start for Mott, who is seeking his first Whitney victory.

Though Flat Out had shown an affinity for Belmont Park last year – winning the Suburban and Jockey Club Gold Cup – Mott chose the Monmouth Cup over the Suburban to bring Flat Out back from a five-month layoff because he felt that’s what the horse was ready for at that time.

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In the two-turn, one-mile Monmouth Cup, Flat Out finished second to Rule in a race where Flat Out had traffic and was compromised by a slow pace.

“It was just the right wake-up call,” Mott said. “He was good before, now he knows he’s back in the game.”

Rosie Napravnik will ride Flat Out from post 7.

Mott, who hasn’t had a Whitney starter since Peaks and Valleys finished third in 1996, will send out the likely favorite in Ron the Greek, who won the Stephen Foster and Santa Anita handicaps earlier this year. Mott was thinking of giving Ron the Greek a break to possibly await the Woodward, but believes the horse is training so well that to skip the race would be foolhardy.

Jose Lezcano will ride Ron the Greek from post 6.

With Endorsement and Trickmeister in the field, there should be ample pace to set things up for both of Mott’s horses.

“I think both horses are doing well, at least on paper there should be an honest pace and hopefully either horse can benefit from it, maybe both horses can benefit from it,” Mott said. “When you’re going for that kind of a race, it’s better to have two chances than just one.”

Todd Pletcher also will have two horses in the Whitney. Rule, who defeated Flat Out at Monmouth, finished third in the Woodward last year after setting the pace. He breaks from the rail Saturday, but is unlikely to make the early lead under Joe Bravo.

“It’s maybe not an ideal post, but he’s a seasoned horse,” Pletcher said. “Hopefully, we can save some ground into the first turn and be in a good position.”

Pletcher also will send out the veteran Caixa Eletronica, who earlier this year won the $1 million Charles Town Classic at 1 1/8 miles and the Grade 2 True North at seven furlongs. He is coming off a fifth-place finish in the James Marvin, a race in which Pletcher felt the horse was compromised by a slow opening quarter.

Fort Larned will try to stamp himself as a legitimate Grade 1 horse in the Whitney. He has won a pair of Grade 3 stakes this year, including a three-length score over Successful Dan in the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap last out. Three starts back, he finished second to Successful Dan but six lengths in front of Mucho Macho Man in the Alysheba at Churchill Downs.

“Any one of them in here would be the favorite,” said Ian Wilkes, trainer of Fort Larned. “You got to think he belongs.”

Hymn Book, who won the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream in February, finished second to Mucho Macho Man in the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont last month, a race in which he broke poorly and found himself 11 lengths behind the field.

Hymn Book will be reunited with John Velazquez, who was aboard for the Donn victory.

“I think when Johnny rides him, he rides him a little bit closer to the pace, so if they go slow, he’ll be laying up close, if they go fast, he’ll be back a little farther,” trainer Shug McGaughey said.

Endorsement won the Texas Mile and finished a respectable third in the Pimlico Special. He was studdish in the paddock prior to the Suburban and never truly ran, finishing last.

“It takes him a while to settle into his environment, and we got up there the day before,” said trainer Eoin Harty, who has had Endorsement here several weeks prior to the Whitney.

Trickmeister ran the best race of his career at Saratoga in 2010, when he won the Pleasant Colony Stakes by 11 3/4 lengths.

Hunters Bay, trained by Reade Baker, has won three consecutive races, including the Grade 3 Dominion Day Handicap at Woodbine. Though his last four victories have come on synthetic surfaces, he did win twice on dirt in 2010 when trained by Pletcher.