By Nicholas Godfrey 1:00AM 2 OCT 2016
Report: USA, Saturday
Belmont Park: Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (Grade 1) 1m4f, turf, 3yo+
SOFT ground at a rain-sodden Belmont Park was cited as the primary factor in the shock defeat of Flintshire as the 1-5 favourite went down by five lengths to fellow former French-trained compatriot Ectot (Todd Pletcher/Jose Ortiz) in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.
Flintshire had firmly positioned himself at the top of the US tree with three comfortable victories since leaving Andre Fabre joining Chad Brown in the States.
But the so-called Super Saturday card at Belmont was to prove anything but for the six-year-old’s connections as he went down by five lengths to all-the-way winner Ectot, carrying the Al Shaqab silks for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Flintshire had been transferred to the US largely in search of fast ground, and the going at Belmont was described as yielding after heavy downpours in New York. “He didn’t handle the ground,” said Brown as he reflected on Flintshire’s first defeat in 2016.
“We knew the risk going into the race running on soft ground – he has a poor record on it,” added the trainer. “But I didn’t see another option. I didn’t feel comfortable going into the Breeders’ Cup without a prep. So we gave it a shot and it didn’t work out. Hopefully he’ll come out of the race sound and will get a chance to redeem himself in the Breeders’ Cup on firm ground.”
Sent off a 9-1 shot, Ectot was having his third outing for Pletcher since leaving France, where he won the Group 1 Criterium International on soft ground as a two-year-old.
“He’s trained exceptionally well for us since he came in,” said Pletcher. “He went off form in his last few starts in Europe but came to us in great condition. His races leading up to this were sneaky good and he seemed to be improving. We made some minor adjustments with equipment and shoes and figured it out as we went along.”
Flintshire raced at the back of the four-runner field, and though he got to within a couple of lengths of Ectot, the winner was pulling away again in the final furlong.
“We thought the key was if we could get him to settle,” added Pletcher. “He was a little keen last start. We thought it would help when it rained.”
Flintshire will get another crack at Ectot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita as both horses are being target at the November 5 contest. Ground conditions are likely to be rather different.
Also on Saturday
Churchill Downs: Ack Ack Hcap (Grade 3) 1m, dirt, 3yo+
Another shock result as the experiment to stretch Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Runhappy out to a mile after a layoff failed. The four-year-old, returning after a nine-month layoff with an eye on the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, faded in the closing stages to finish only fourth behind late-running winner Tom’s Ready (Dallas Stewart/Brian Hernandez).
Belmont Park: Vosburgh Stakes (Grade 1) 6f, dirt, 3yo+
In the absence of dual Grade 1 winner A.P.Indian, scratched owing to the muddy track, seven-year-old Joking (Charlton Baker/Manny Franco) charged home from well off the pace to claim his first Grade 1 success. Having been out with a splint injury since winning the True North over course and distance on the Belmont Stakes undercard, the 4-1 chance benefited from a hot pace set by favourite X Y Jet, who tired in the stretch.
Belmont Park: Beldame Stakes (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo+ f/m
Dispelling any worries about the wet conditions Apple Blossom winner Forever Unbridled (Dallas Stewart/Joel Rosario) outclassed her rivals for an odds-on success. She’ll go to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.