Story & photos by Teresa Genaro
Training titan Todd Pletcher has spent much of the last few months in the shadow of Chad Brown, but in the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park, Pletcher turned the tables, his Ectot handing Brown’s Flintshire his first defeat in New York.
The win was Ectot’s first since being transferred to Pletcher, having run fourth in the Lure in his stateside debut at Saratoga in August and second in an allowance/optional claimer at Belmont last month.
A Grade 1 winner in France at ages 2 and 3, Ectot was winless last year before being on the sidelines from last October until this summer.
“He had gone off form in Europe, and it was worth giving him a try over here,” said Pletcher.
Under jockey Jose Ortiz for the first time, Ectot went to an easy lead in the four-horse Hirsch, cruising through slow fractions on a yielding Widener turf course. Flintshire and Javier Castellano took their customary place at the back, and the early going looked not unlike the similarly small Bowling Green at Saratoga in July, which Flintshire won by three-quarters of a length.
But this time Castellano was unable to summon the late kick that Flintshire has customarily been able to produce – though always on tracks rated good or firm. The six-year-old has yet to win on soft going.
“Of course, there’s some concern with the possibility of rain,” said Brown earlier this week to the New York Racing Association. “He prefers firm ground but we’ll hope for the best.”
On race day, though, Flintshire’s best was not quite good enough.
“He didn’t handle the ground,” said Brown after the race. “We knew the risk going into the race running on soft ground, (but) I didn’t feel comfortable going into the Breeders’ Cup without a prep.”
The footing was no such concern for the Hirsch winner, who notched the Group 1 Criterium International at St. Cloud as a 2yo on soft going.
“We felt like we had a lot going for us,” said Pletcher, “but you have to have tremendous respect for a horse like Flintshire. We were optimistic that we were going to run well. I was wondering whether Flintshire was going to have that big acceleration, but by the eighth-pole, I thought, ‘Wow, we might have it.’”
Have it they did, five lengths ahead of runner-up Flintshire, and at odds of 9-1.
The win earned Ectot and owners Al Shaqab Racing and Gerard Augustin Norman a berth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf, along with pre-entry and entry fees for the race and shipping costs to Santa Anita.
“I don’t anticipate that we’re going to get a lot of rain in California,” said Pletcher with a wry smile. “At the same time, he’s run well on firm ground also. We’re delighted with his efforts today.”
A month from now in California, Ectot will once again face Flintshire, who booked his Breeders’ Cup ticket with his win in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga, also a “Win & You’re In” race.
“Hopefully,” said Brown, “(Flintshire) will come out of the race sound and will get a chance to redeem himself in the Breeders’ Cup on firm ground.”