09/27/2012 12:25PM

Weekend Warrior for Sept. 29: Flat Out looks ready to peak in Jockey Club Gold Cup

Tom Keyser
Flat Out's latest Beyer Speed Figure hints that he is regaining his best form.

All of a sudden, it gets very serious.

Saturday is the biggest day of the Belmont Park fall meet with five Grade 1 stakes and a Grade 2 event on the card, and it’s also a huge day at Santa Anita with five Grade 1 races to be decided. And all 11 of these races are Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In events. Serious stuff, indeed. Let’s get to it.

Jockey Club Gold Cup

This is the main event at Belmont on Saturday, and with a purse of $1 million it’s also the richest race of the weekend. The Gold Cup brings back the first four finishers in last month’s Whitney Handicap – Fort Larned, Ron the Greek, Flat Out, and Hymn Book – and they look like the main protagonists here.

Fort Larned was unquestionably the best horse on Whitney Day. He was caught four wide around both turns and was close to a strong early pace. Yet after breaking open the race with a quick burst in upper stretch, he scored while not being fully extended. This will be Fort Larned’s first start at Belmont, which can be a tricky surface for some, but no one should be surprised if he won back.

Ron the Greek came from way back after being floated seven wide into the stretch to be a gaining second in the Whitney. For my money, that performance in defeat was decidedly better than his big scores this year in the Santa Anita and Foster handicaps, which were achieved with the help of pace collapses. He would also be no surprise Saturday.

Hymn Book would be a bit of a surprise. Although Hymn Book made a nice move on the far turn in the Whitney and likes Belmont, I think he’s a half-notch below these.

I liked Flat Out in the Whitney and I’m going back to him in this spot. Flat Out was beaten only a head for second and a little more than a length for it all in the Whitney. At the same time, I can’t really make an excuse for him other than I was a little surprised how he was allowed to drop back in the middle stages of the race. However, the Whitney was Flat Out’s second start back off a five-month layoff, and he took a major step forward Beyer Figure-wise, approaching the Beyer range he was in last year when he was arguably the top older male in training. Flat Out is now primed for a peak performance, and it’s only gravy that he returns to the surface over which he recorded his biggest victories. Flat Out dominated last year’s Gold Cup and Suburban Handicap in his only two prior starts at Belmont.

Zenyatta Stakes

Formerly the Lady’s Secret, this race finds Include Me Out gunning for her third Grade 1 score and fifth graded win overall on the season, and Love and Pride shipping from New York hoping to prove her shocking upset of Royal Delta and It’s Tricky in the Personal Ensign was not a fluke. But I’m going with Amani.

Amani was a soundly beaten third behind Include Me Out in the Clement Hirsch in her U.S. debut early last month, but that was her first start in eight months and she was going very well at the finish. And I thought Amani took a sneaky step forward last time out when sixth against males in the Pacific Classic if for no other reason than she was closer to the early pace. But what’s appealing about Amani is not only the move back in with members of her own sex and that she’s making her third start off a layoff. It’s also the surface switch from Polytrack to dirt, on which she was 10 for 11 in her native Chile.

I’m afraid I am chalky in the other stakes at Santa Anita. Executiveprivilege finally gets to do what I think she really wants to do in the Chandelier (formerly the Oak Leaf), which is go two turns, and the fact that she has gone 4 for 4 sprinting only shows how good she really is. And Know More looks best to me over an uninspiring group in the FrontRunner (formerly the Norfolk). I like Cambina in the Rodeo Drive (formerly the Yellow Ribbon) because she finally gets her distance, and I think Game On Dude is the best older horse in the country, so I have to go with him in the Awesome Again (formerly the Goodwood). And as with Amani, the switch from Polytrack to dirt is good for Game On Dude.

Kelso Handicap

To me, this race has the potential for chaos. To Honor and Serve showed how good he can be when he prevailed in the Woodward most recently. But he now cuts back from nine to eight furlongs, and that combined with this race being chock full of front-runners means To Honor and Serve will likely have to come from farther off the pace than he ever has before. And who knows what we’ll get from Shackleford? Saratoga was a disaster for him. He caught mud, which he hates, when he ran dismally in the Vanderbilt, and then he got sick. Shackleford hasn’t run a representative race since his Met Mile win on Memorial Day, and he might catch another wet track.

I’m taking a shot with Jersey Town. Jersey Town finished third in the Forego last time in an effort that was way better than it looks on paper. Beyond making a huge run that was premature, he raced on a dead rail every step of the way. Jersey Town gets a big rider switch to Javier Castellano, and he is a Grade 1 winner at the distance.

In the other Belmont stakes, I have to go with It’s Tricky over Royal Delta in the Beldame given how well she ran in the Personal Ensign after a horrendous trip; I’ll take Sean Avery in the Vosburgh, but Rothko is dangerous; I’m concerned about the 10 furlong distance for Zagora in the Flower Bowl, but I loved her last effort; and the distance is the difference maker for Point of Entry in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.