NEW YORK — Heavily favored Flintshire lost for the first time this season, with Ectot winning the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic by five lengths Saturday at Belmont Park.
Ectot, a 9-1 shot, set the pace for the 1½ miles over the rain-softened course in a race with only four runners. Flintshire, the 1-5 choice, rallied under Javier Castellano on the final turn but was no match for the pace-setter.
“I was surprised because I think he is one of the best horses in the country,” Castellano said. “It was really soft ground and heavy. I think he didn’t like it much.”
The Hirsch was one of five stakes on the first of two Super Saturdays at Belmont Park featuring Breeders’ Cup prep races.
Ectot paid $20.80 and $4.40. Flintshire was second, ending his string of Grade 1 victories at three. He returned $2.10. There was no show betting.
The victory gave Ectot, a 5-year-old trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Jose Ortiz, a spot in the $4 million Turf on Nov. 5 at Santa Anita.
Ectot joined the Pletcher barn this year after starting his career in Europe. He was winless in two modest starts this season before the Hirsch upset.
“He went off form in his last few starts in Europe but came to us in great condition,” Pletcher said. “His races leading up to this were sneaky good and he seemed to be improving.”
Improving all the way to the Breeders’ Cup.
“Today’s race was a big step,” Pletcher said. “We don’t anticipate we’ll get a lot of rain in California but, at the same time, he’s run well on firm ground.”
Twilight Eclipse was third, followed by Money Multiplier.
In other stakes results: Joking ($10 to win) earned the other guaranteed Breeders’ Cup spot with a dramatic rally in the mud to take the $350,000 Vosburgh for sprinters.
It was the first Grade 1 victory for both owner-trainer Charlton Baker and jockey Manny Franco.
“He used to be a horse that was always jittery,” Baker said. “He’s gotten calmer as he’s gotten older. The price, when I got him for $20,000, I thought was a bargain.”
It was the fourth straight win for the 7-year-old gelding, who is now heading to the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
— Forever Unbridled ($3.50) cruised to a commanding victory under a hand ride by Joel Rosario to take the $400,000 Beldame for fillies and mares.
The 4-year-old filly trained by Dallas Stewart got her third win in five stakes starts this season.
— Paulassilverlining ($5.60) rallied six wide in the stretch to beat Quezon by three quarters of a length in the $300,000 Gallant Bloom for filly and mare sprinters.
It was the fourth win in seven starts this season for the 4-year-old trained by Michelle Nevin.
— The $200,000 Pilgrim, the other turf stakes on the card, also went to a frontrunner as Oscar Performance ($5.40) romped to a six-length victory in the race for 2-year-olds.
The colt logged his second win in three starts.