Jockey Jose Ortiz took 9-1 shot Ectot gate to wire to post a stunning upset over 1-5 favorite Flintshire in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Belmont Park. Watch Video
A British-bred 5-year-old son ofHurricane Run trained by Todd Pletcher for Al Shaqab Racing and Gerard Normand, Ectot earned an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) atSanta Anita Park with the Oct. 1 victory.
Although it was contested over a yielding 1 1/2-mile Widener turf course that was considered not to his liking, Flintshire still looked like a standout in his final race before the Breeders' Cup Turf, considering the Juddmonte Farms homebred faced only three opponents while seeking his fourth graded stakes triumph from as many starts this year.
But Ectot, winless in two North American starts this year after 10 starts in France and one in Great Britain, was out of the gate first and loped along in moderate fractions of 1:15.03 for six furlongs while stalked by Money Multiplier who, like Flintshire, is trained by Chad Brown.
Meanwhile, Flintshire, ridden by Javier Castellano, was settled into last early and made his move on the outside rounding the turn after a mile was completed in 1:39.78. Although the prohibitive favorite had no problem passing Twilight Eclipse and Money Multiplier, Ortiz and Ectot had a lot left in the tank and drew off to win by five lengths.
The final time was 2:28.76, well off the course record of 2:23.39. Twilight Eclipse was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third, followed by Money Multiplier.
With no show wagering, Ectot paid $20.80 and $4.40, with Flintshire returning $2.10.
The victory was the seventh in 14 starts for Ectot and increased the horse’s earnings to $840,010. The victory was the first in the U.S. for Ectot after finishing fourth, only a length behind the winner, in the restricted Lure Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, followed by a second in allowance company as the 9-10 favorite at the Spa.
The victory was the first since the horse bred in Great Britain by Skymarc Farm and Ecurie Des Monceaux, Ectot won the Qatar Prix Niel (gr. IIT) in September 2014. The previous year, Ectot annexed the French group I Criterium International two additional group III stakes in France.
From three starts last year, all in group company in France, Ectot’s best effort was a third in the group III Prix la Coupe de Maisons-Laffitte.
"He's trained exceptionally well for us since he came in,” Pletcher said. “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.
The trainer said Ectot was keen in his last start and one key to the Hirsch win was Ortiz being able to get him to settle. Also, the weather and off turf course were in his favor.
“We thought it would help when it rained. We felt we had a lot going for us, but you still have to have tremendous respect for a horse like Flintshire, who is accomplished and for what he's done in his career. We were optimistic that our horse would run well and we couldn't be more pleased with the way he did it.
“Today's race was a big step. We don't anticipate we'll get a lot of rain in California (for the Breeders’ Cup) but at the same time, he's run well on firm ground. We're delighted with his efforts today."
"My strategy was to go to the lead and slow down but my horse is a little strong in the early stages,” Ortiz said. “So, I just needed to break and try to relax him. When we got to the backside, he relaxed very well for me. When I passed the three-eighths pole, I looked and I saw Twilight Eclipse three lengths behind me and I saw Flintshire in the clear, so I still had to run to win. When we got to the quarter pole, I saw Johnny (Velazquez, aboard Money Multiplier) all out and Flintshire was passing and I opened two lengths without even asking, so I thought I had a really good shot. When I asked him to go, he responded very well.”
Brown said the yielding turf course was a factor in Flintshire’s performance and he will go on to the Breeders’ Cup.
"He didn't handle the ground. We knew the risk going into the race running on soft ground. He has a poor record on it. 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."
"I was surprised because I think he's one of the best horses in the country,” Castellano said of the beaten favorite. “It was really soft ground and heavy. I think he didn't like it much. He dictated the pace. We all fell in great position. I wasn't too far, but my horse just didn't like (the soft turf)."