August 6, 2020

Vekoma wires rivals in Met Mile; Tacitus, Frank’s Rockette prevail as favorites

Vekoma
Vekoma wins the Metropolitan (Coglianese Photos/Joe Labozzetta)

Vekoma has his pick of Breeders’ Cup targets in November after registering a gate-to-wire triumph in the $500,000 Metropolitan H. (G1) at Belmont Park on Saturday.

Four weeks after dominating the Carter H. (G1), a “Win & You’re In” prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), Vekoma earned an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) with his front-running score in the Met Mile under Javier Castellano.

Comfortably ahead by a length through fractions of :22.72, :45.87, and 1:09.57, Vekoma maintained that margin through the stretch and opened up ever so slightly late to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Carter runner-up Network Effect, who edged the late-rallying Code of Honor for second by a neck.

“The way I handicapped the race, I thought I would sit behind the two outside horses (Mr. Freeze and Warrior’s Charge) and then go around them and get it done,” said Castellano. “But he broke so well out of the gate, I didn’t want to take away anything that comes easy. I dictated the pace in a nice way and he took it from there.”

Owned by R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables, the George Weaver-trained Vekoma paid $5.90 after completing the course in a swift 1:32.88 over a fast track.

Rounding out the order of finish were Warrior’s Charge, the favorite McKinzie, Mr Freeze, Endorsed, and Hog Creek Hustle.

This was the fifth stakes win for Vekoma, who captured the Nashua (G3) at two and the Blue Grass (G3) at three before a troubled 12th-place effort in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Not seen after the Derby until Mar. 28 this year. Vekoma romped by 3 3/4 lengths in the Sir Shackleton S. at Gulfstream before his 7 1/4-length tour de force in the June 6 Carter at Belmont.

“The most likely scenario, to me, is that he would come back in a race like the Forego ([G1] at Saratoga on Aug. 29),” said Weaver. “We want to plot a campaign to get us to the Breeders’ Cup, so we’ll take a look at the calendar and go from there.”

Bred by Alpha Delta Stables in the Kentucky, the Candy Ride colt is out of Grade 1-winning sprinter Mona de Momma, by Speightstown.

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With blinkers on for the first time since last fall, Tacitus stylishly snapped a seven-race losing skid with an 8 3/4-length romp in the $200,000 Suburban Stakes (G2) for owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms and trainer Bill Mott.

The 11-10 favorite under John Velazquez, Tacitus bided his time several lengths off the pace down the backside, confidently advanced around the turn, and opened up under modest urging to win in facile fashion. He paid $4.20 after completing 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.51.

Moretti was up in the final strides to get second by a neck over 57-1 pacesetter Parsimony. Just Whistle was fourth and was followed by Mr. Buff and Sir Winston. The latter, who won last year’s Belmont S. (G1) over Tacitus, trailed throughout in a dull effort.

This was the first win for the gray son of Tapit since earning back-to-back wins in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2) last spring. Elevated to third in the Kentucky Derby, he then ran second in the Belmont, Jim Dandy (G2), and Travers (G1) before completing his campaign with a third-place effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).

In two previous starts this term, Tacitus finished fifth in the $20 million Saudi Cup and fourth in the May 2 Oaklawn H. (G2).

A son of champion older mare Close Hatches, the Kentucky-bred Tacitus has earned more than $2.8 million.

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Odds-on favorite Frank’s Rockette pulled out a belated first graded stakes win in the $97,000 Victory Ride S. (G3), but it was far from easy as the 3-year-old daughter of Into Mischief was pressed to prevail by a short head from Reagan’s Edge in a blistering time of 1:14.47, .01 seconds off the 16-year-old track mark for 6 1/2 furlongs.

Twice placed in Grade 1 company last year, in the Spinaway and Frizette, Frank’s Rockette paid $2.90 for owner Frank Fletcher, trainer Bill Mott, and jockey John Velazquez. Her lone previous stakes victory came in the Feb. 22 Any Limit S. at Gulfstream.

“She didn’t break quite as sharp as I’ve seen her in the past, but she was able to open up a bit when she turned for home and had enough courage to hold them off. She had to work at it a little bit. It was not an easy win,” said Mott, who indicated Frank’s Rockette would target the Aug. 8 Test (G1) at Saratoga.