July 4, 2022

Met Mile, Ogden Phipps battles of heavyweight stars

Flightline has won his two starts by a combined margin of 26 lengths (Benoit Photo)

Metropolitan H. (G1) — Race 9 (4:43 p.m. ET)

In another era, perhaps, Flightline would have been asked to tote considerably more than the 124 pounds that will be required from him in Saturday’s $1 million Metropolitan H. (G1) at Belmont Park. He’s been that good, so far.

The famed Met Mile will mark only the fourth lifetime start for the California-based Flightline since his debut more than 13 months ago. Although not the soundest of individuals, obviously, his brilliance can not be understated. He’s been an odds-on favorite each time he’s run, and has performed as if they were bargain prices. He won his only previous stakes attempt, the Dec. 26 Malibu (G1) at Santa Anita, by 11 1/2 lengths. That’s one length less than has been his average margin of victory. His Brisnet Speed ratings have been 105-117-114.

“He’s a runner and he’s a stone cold athlete. Ever since we’ve had him, he’s looked like the big horse,” trainer John Sadler said.

On paper, Flightline figures to be challenged like he never has before. Speaker’s Corner enters the Met Mile a winner in six of his seven lifetime appearances around one turn. That includes victories this season in the Carter H. (G1), Gulfstream Park Mile (G2), and Fred W. Hooper (G3). By virtue of his more frequent appearances and his 2-for-2 mark at Belmont, the Godolphin homebred will be conceding one pound to Flightline.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Met Mile is a heavyweight championship type bout,” trainer Bill Mott said. “It should be a good race. If our horse shows up and the other horse shows up, it should be interesting.”

This top-heavy edition of the Metropolitan is not without it’s middle class, so to speak. If Flightline and Speaker’s Corner burn each other out, Aloha West could arrive on the scene late to make things interesting. He did just that in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Del Mar, winning by the narrowest of noses over a six-furlong distance perhaps slightly less than he’d prefer. He figures to progress off his season debut third to champion Jackie’s Warrior in last month’s Churchill Downs (G1).

Happy Saver has won three of four lifetime at Belmont and has never finished out of the money in nine starts. However, his lone graded stakes win occurred in the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) in October 2020.

The outsider among the quintet is Informative, but trainer Uriah St. Lewis has pulled off massive upsets before. Informative did just that in last summer’s Salvator Mile (G3), at 79-1, but it would take a major leap of faith and a significantly higher weight spread than eight-to-nine pounds to see him within breathing distance of the marquee names.

The winner will receive an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Keeneland in November.

Ogden Phipps S. (G1) — Race 7 (3:05 p.m. ET)

The heavyweight battles on the Belmont Stakes undercard is not exclusive to the boys. The $500,000 Ogden Phipps S. (G1) figures to go a long way in determining the current pecking order among the older dirt females.

The pro tem leader is the division’s reigning champion, Letruska, who counted the 2021 Ogden Phipps among her six stakes wins last season. Although she threw a clunker in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) as the favorite, she’s resumed her winning ways this term with back-to-back wins in the Royal Delta (G3) and Apple Blossom H. (G1).

Malathaat, last year’s champion three-year-old filly, outfinished Letruska by a wide margin in the Breeders’ Cup, though she fell a half-length short of the winning Japanese longshot Marche Lorraine. Malathaat won both tries around one turn at the start of her career, but the physically imposing daughter of Curlin has done her most prolific work in two-turn races, and generally at distances longer than the Phipps’ 1 1/16 miles.

“It’s a one-turn race so that will change the dynamics a little bit,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “Letruska will likely be the pacesetter, so we’ll have to keep an eye on her.”

Clairiere and Search Results were below Malathaat in last year’s sophomore class, but exit strong performances. Winner of the Cotillion (G1) last season, Clairiere was second best to Letruska in the Apple Blossom when that rival encountered no pace pressure. Search Results is 2-for-2 at Belmont with wins in the 2021 Acorn (G1) and May 8 Ruffian (G2) by three lengths.

Bonny South has chased Letruska multiple times to no avail and was second to Malathaat in the Doubledogdare (G3) at Keeneland last out. The 2021 Ogden Phipps runner-up will have the benefit of a six-pound pull in the weights from the two champions on Saturday.

The winner will receive an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland.

Brooklyn S. (G2) — Race 5 (1:47 p.m. ET)

While not a championship-quality prize compared to the Met Mile and Ogden Phipps, the $400,000 Brooklyn S. (G2) over 1 1/2 miles is intriguing in its own way. The well-matched field includes the race’s 2021 winner, Lone Rock, who romped by more than 11 lengths a year ago and has won nine of his past 12 outings.

Max Player captured the Suburban (G2) and Jockey Club Gold Cup last season, while Warrant narrowly missed in the Santa Anita H. (G1) two back. Todd Pletcher has three entered, including the speedy First Constitution, who led throughout winning the 1 3/8-mile Flat Out S. over stablemate Portos. Pletcher’s Grade 2-winning Fearless steps up in trip following a second-place effort in the Oaklawn H. (G2).