ELMONT, N.Y. - Over a turf course listed as yielding, Ectot earned his first victory in North America and an automatic berth to the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita by upsetting 1-5 favorite Flintshire in the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Breaking from the rail with Jose Ortiz aboard, Ectot went straight to the lead and set modest fractions of 49.85 seconds for the opening half-mile with three-quarters in 1:15.03. The 5-year-old British-bred son of Hurricane Run continued to lead as heavily favored Flintshire trailed early.
Tipped out three-wide, Flintshire passed rivals Twilight Eclipse and Money Multiplier making his move toward the leader at the five-sixteenths pole but it wasn't enough as Ectot extended away in the stretch to secure the victory by five lengths.
He completed the 1 ½-mile distance in 2:28.76.
"My strategy was to go to the lead and slow down but my horse was a little strong in the early stages," said Ortiz. "I just needed to break and try to relax him. When we got to the backside, he relaxed very well. 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."
Ectot began his racing career in France where he was a multiple group stakes winner before being transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher. In his first two starts at Saratoga Race Course for his new conditioner, he finished fourth on August 6 in the Lure before missing by a nose at the wire to place second in an optional-claiming race on September 4.
"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.
"We thought the key was if we could get him to settle," he added. "He was a little keen last start. 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."
Leaving the gate at odds of 9-1, Ectot returned $20.80 for a $2 win wager and boosted his career earnings to $840,010 for Al Shaqab Racing and Gerald Augustin-Normand.
"He didn't handle the ground," said Chad Brown, trainer of Flintshire, who finished 1 ¾ lengths ahead of third-place runner Twilight Eclipse and fourth-place finisher Money Multiplier in his first loss after three graded stakes wins this year.
"We knew the risk going into the race running on soft ground," added Brown. "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."
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