Known as the Met Mile, Saturday’s $500,000 Metropolitan Handicap (G1) should be exciting. Vekoma will look to confirm himself as America’s best dirt miler against seven notable rivals, including top older horses Code of Honor and McKinzie, and the Met Mile is among five stakes on the 11-race program at Belmont Park.
The Met Mile serves as a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
A convincing winner of the Blue Grass (G2) at 1 1/8 miles, Vekoma headed to the sidelines for nearly 11 months following an unplaced effort in the Kentucky Derby. The chestnut son of Candy Ride returned with a 3 3/4-length win in the 7-furlong Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park in late March, and Vekoma continued to show his affinity for middle distances with a sparkling 7 1/4-length tally in the 7-furlong Carter H. (G1) at Belmont on June 6.
He netted a whopping 113 Brisnet Speed rating last time. Trained by George Weaver, Vekoma will carry 123 points and should be forwardly placed from Post 2 with regular rider Javier Castellano.
Multiple Grade 1 victor McKinzie, who tuned up for the Met Mile with a facile tally in the 7-furlong Triple Bend Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita on June 7, has been pegged the 125-pound highweight. Runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), the 5-year-old horse finished a troubled second to eventual champion sprinter Mitole in last year’s Met Mile. Mike Smith will be up for Bob Baffert.
Travers Stakes (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Code of Honor will tote 124 pounds following his comeback win in the June 6 Westerchester Stakes (G1) at Belmont. The 4-year-old improved his record to 4-3-1-0 over the track, and John Velazquez will guide the Shug McGaughey-trained late runner.
Network Effect brings improving form to the race. After netting a career-best 105 Speed figure for a sharp two-length score in the Big Drama Stakes at Gulfstream two back, the 4-year-old colt received a 104 rating for his runner-up effort in the Carter. Irad Ortiz Jr. has the call for Chad Brown. Endorsed enters on the upswing for Bill Mott. A half-length second in the Westchester, the 4-year-old posted a nice allowance victory at Oaklawn Park two back. Joel Rosario rides.
Gulfstream Park Mile (G2) winner Mr Freeze, third in the Oaklawn H. (G2) last out, can’t be dismissed on the cutback to his favorite distance (3-2-1-0 at a mile). Hog Creek Hustle, hero of the Woody Stephens (G1) at Belmont last summer, brings a late kick to the festivities, and Grade 3 scorer Warrior’s Charge completes the lineup.
The $200,000 Suburban Stakes (G2) and $100,000 Victory Ride Stakes (G3) will also be offered on the main track. Multiple Grade 2 winner Tacitus is a top draw in the 1 1/4-mile Suburban.
Runner-up in the Belmont Stakes (G1), Tacitus recorded three Grade 1 placings last season. Mott adds blinkers following a fourth in the Oaklawn H., a race Tacitus was eligible to need following a fifth in the $20 million Saudi Cup in late February, and Velazquez will be up on the gray 4-year-old.
Moretti established himself as a Suburban contender when dominating the June 11 Flat Out Stakes on the front end, scoring by 5 1/4 lengths, the 4-year-old will seek his third consecutive win for Pletcher. Sir Winston, upset winner of the 2019 Belmont Stakes, is eligible to improve upon a second in the Flat Out, and classy New York-bred millionaire Mr. Buff merits respect in the eight-horse field.
Stakes winners Frank’s Rockette and Up in Smoke are leading contenders among five sophomore fillies in the 6 1/2-furlong Victory Ride.