August 10, 2020

Must-see Met Mile, Ogden Phipps, and Jaipur to offer Breeders’ Cup berths

McKinzie and jockey Mike Smith win the Alysheba Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Friday, May 3, 2019 (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

Most consider it the race of the day, eclipsing the third leg of the Triple Crown later in the card. Others with long memories are thinking it’s the best renewal of the race in decades.

To call Saturday’s $1.2 million Metropolitan H. (G1) at Belmont Park a powerhouse, must-see race would not be an overstatement. A field of nine will go forth in the historic one-mile fixture, one of three “Win & You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge preps that will be contested on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

McKinzie has started as an odds-on choice in all three starts this year, but will be a higher-priced favorite, if he is at all, against this stellar group. The multiple Grade 1 winner rebounded from narrow losses in the San Pasqual (G2) and Santa Anita H. (G1) to emphatically take the Alysheba (G2) at Churchill Downs last month.

Widely thought of as the top sprinter in the country, Mitole stretches out to a mile for the first time with a record of seven wins from 10 starts. He’s won six straight dating back to last March, easily handling a step up in trip to seven furlongs in last month’s Churchill Downs (G1).

Thunder Snow, who’s won the last two runnings of the Dubai World Cup (G1), is aiming for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) rather than the Dirt Mile (G1), for which the winner of this gets free entry. He was beaten a neck in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) in his last trip to Big Sandy and was a fine third in the Classic itself at Churchill Downs to conclude his 2018 campaign.

Firenze Fire would have the look of a longer shot if not for the fact this race is at Belmont, where’s he been dominant in three previous tries. He’s run up the score in the 2017 Champagne (G1), 2018 Dwyer (G3), and in the $150,000 Runhappy over six furlongs on May 11.

“This is going to be a very tough race,” trainer Jason Servis said. “I’m not really worried about him stretching out again. It’s a race where we want to take a shot and the mile is within his reach. (The Dwyer) was probably his best race.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher has a dangerous duo in Coal Front and Prince Lucky. A five-time graded stakes winner, Coal Front rides in on a three-race win streak, including the Godolphin Mile (G2) in Dubai. Prince Lucky ruled the major one-mile events at Gulfstream over the winter and took the $150,000 Easy Goer on last year’s Belmont Stakes card, but will need to rebound from a poor try in last month’s Westchester (G3) in the slop.

The rest of the field are longshots but not completely dismissible. Promises Fulfilled won four graded stakes last season, including the H. Allen Jerkens (G1) and Phoenix (G2), and was most recently third to Mitole in the Churchill Downs. Pavel does not hit the board with great frequency, but is a past winner of the Stephen Foster (G1). Tale of Silence will probably be the longest price, but is three-for-five at Belmont and has turned in a pair of very quick breezes leading up to this.

If this Met Mile lives up to its hype, fans are in for quite a treat.

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Midnight Bisou (outside) and jockey Mike Smith just run down Escape Clause (inside) under Tyler Baze to take the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at Oaklawn Park on April 14, 2019 (c) Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park

Only five fillies and mares are vying for a free entry into the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) in the $700,000 Ogden Phipps (G1) over 1 1/16 miles, mostly due to the presence of Midnight Bisou and Come Dancing.

The early leader in the division race, Midnight Bisou kicked off 2019 with consecutive victories in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3), Azeri (G2), and Apple Blossom H. (G1), the latter in a photo finish over the Manitoba-bred Escape Clause. Winner of the Mother Goose (G2) over this track last summer, she’s filled a void left by her 2018 Breeders’ Cup conqueror Monomoy Girl, who remains out of action.

Come Dancing, however, could snatch the lead in the race for an Eclipse Award if she runs like she did in winning either the Distaff H. (G3) or Ruffian (G2), in which she earned BRIS Speed ratings of 114 and 105.

“She’s doing really well,” trainer Carlos Martin said. “She’s only had two races this year by design. She had a great work the other day. (Jockey) Manny Franco said she’s doing as good as she’s ever done. She’s eating up and looks like a picture, which is what you want to see in these fillies. There are probably three or four fillies in here that you’re going to see later in the year at the Breeders’ Cup. It’s going to be a great race for the fans.”

Pacific Wind and Mopotism complete the small lineup.

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World of Trouble and jockey Manny Franco capture the Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Friday, May 3, 2019 (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

How much impact the six-furlong, $400,000 Jaipur (G1) will have on the five-furlong Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) remains to be seen. One horse that shouldn’t mind any sort of cutback in distance later in the year is World of Trouble, the even-money morning line favorite who’d be coasting on a seven-race win streak if not for a photo-finish loss in last year’s Turf Sprint at Churchill.

Since then,the versatile Jason Servis trainee has won four stakes, including the Carter H. (G1) on dirt at seven furlongs and the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G2) five week ago at 5 1/2 furlongs.

“He’s a killer horse. A monster. A champion horse,” Servis said. “He has a Grade 1 on the dirt and this is a Grade 1 on the turf. It would be nice if we are fortunate enough to get the ‘W.’ For stallion reasons, he would be a Grade 1 winner on turf and dirt if he can win the Jaipur.

“He’s been training pretty good. I’m very pleased with the way he is coming up to this race. I’d say I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Disco Partner is coming off a nondescript season debut at Keeneland, but is a proven commodity over this course and trip having won the last two editions of the Jaipur for trainer Christophe Clement. Undrafted, now nine years of age, is another past winner (2014) in this year’s field.

The seven-year-old Om, who narrowly missed winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint back in 2016, makes his second start here for Peter Miller, who also saddles the mare Belvoir Bay. She turned in a fine second against the leading English sprinter Blue Point in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) in Dubai two back.