2015 Met Mile Preview and Belmont Stakes Day Selections

To the lament of some horseplayers, the Grade One, $1,250,000 Metropolitan Handicap is not on Memorial Day.  Those vocal rabblerousers feel the race is marginalized with it moved to the Belmont Stakes Day undercard.  On the other hand, the presence of the Metropolitan Handicap gives the Belmont Stakes Day undercard a Baby Breeders’ Cup feel, and the race can be easily be penciled in to already present national television coverage.  Whether marginalized or aided, the race is often nicknamed the Met Mile, taking a short form of its full name along with its distance: a one turn mile on the Belmont dirt.

Perhaps the most important one-turn mile race throughout the year (yes, more than the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile which in some years has not even been at a mile or on dirt), the Met Mile has an eclectic but star-studded list of heroes.  There are Hall of Famers, like Kelso (1961) and Forego (1976, 1977).  There are horses who have gone on to be known for exceptional progeny (that whole “milers make the best sires” idea) like In Reality (1968) and Honour and Glory (1996).  Even horses that have done well at classic distances have won here, like Holy Bull (1994) and Ghostzapper (2005).  Such names given are only a sampling; a worthy note for a race that’s been a Grade One since race grading took hold in the 1970s.

In his final career start, Hall of Famer and 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper wins the 2005 Met Mile. Video courtesy of Youtube.

Nicolle also has also provided a thorough breakdown of Friday’s G2 New York Stakes, and provides selections for Picks & Ponderings and to Hello Race Fans! for the stakes-laden Belmont Stakes weekend. Paul will also make selections to Picks & Ponderings and Hello Race Fans! in a similar manner.

The NBC family of networks provides television coverage for Saturday at Belmont. From 2:30 PM ET to 4:30 PM ET coverage of the stakes-rich undercard airs on NBC Sports Network. At 4:30 PM ET, the coverage continues uninterrupted but flips networks, to NBC. NBC will air the Belmont Stakes live, in a program airing from 4:30 PM to 7:15 PM ET. The television coverage goes back to NBC Sports Network at 7:15 PM ET for a post-race wrap-up show that airs from 7:15 PM ET to 8:00 PM ET. Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will provide live radio coverage of the stakes-rich undercard in a program airing from 2:00 PM ET to 7:30 PM ET airing on Sirius 92, XM 92, and its website. The HRRN radio coverage from 5:00 PM onward includes the Belmont Stakes and is done in partnership with Westwood One.

As with all races at Belmont, Saratoga, and Aqueduct, the audio is available for free on the NYRA website, and they offer video of the races for users who have created an account on the NYRA site.

Selections (grid inclusive) are for turf only.

Belmont Park — Race 9 — G1 Metropolitan Handicap “Met Mile” — One mile (one turn) on dirt — post time 4:49 pm ET

“Horses are like strawberries. They don’t stay fresh very long.”  ~ Hall of Fame trainer Charles Whittingham.

This space leads off with that famed quote from Whittingham as this race sees three horses who will angle for favoritism in the wagering: TONALIST, PRIVATE ZONE, and BAYERN.  PRIVATE ZONE got the lead no one wanted in the G2 Churchill Downs Handicap and coasted along to a victory on Derby Day.  BAYERN ran a clunker in the Churchill Downs when he didn’t get the lead and ran into a host of troubled scenarios in the same G2 Churchill Downs.  BAYERN is the reminder to the quote, because this space thinks he’s going the wrong way.  Although he won last year’s G2 Woody Stephens over this dirt, he didn’t flash the speed he was known for.  It’s possible he returns to the speed and form he had at three.  But with PRIVATE ZONE in the field, he may not get a free lunch on the front end.  It’s also worth noting that BAYERN is facing these foes at equal weights; no more weight-for-age concession anymore and perhaps that advantage has been negated.

It’s not a terribly clever pick, but TONALIST is the choice here in this race sponsored by NYRA.com.  A perfect four-for-four over the Belmont surface, he’s best known for breaking the hearts of Chromies everywhere when winning the 2004 Belmont Stakes and denying California Chrome a Triple Crown.  Winner last time out of the local prep to this race, the G3 Westchester, he got to close into quick fractions that day and with PRIVATE ZONE on the lead (hey, he’ll take it if no one wants it) or BAYERN, there should be something for him to chase and reel in.  Of the three favorites, this space is bullish on TONALIST, who also has the services of a trainer hitting at 21% wins/51% top three in second-off-the-layoff situations.  This writer has long thought of WICKED STRONG and HONOR CODE as one-paced plodders.  WICKED STRONG ran an even third in late-April going ten panels in the G3 Excelsior and turns back here in the Met Mile.  Should BAYERN and PRIVATE ZONE chicken out and not want the lead, perhaps WICKED STRONG gets it and clicks off slow splits.  More likely, there will be a contested quick pace and WICKED STRONG should make his one-run move in the stretch.  He should be able to pick off speed like BAYERN, PRIVATE ZONE, and even BAY OF PLENTY and get up for a piece.  Purely based on similarity, HONOR CODE is useful as well.  Loved for his looks and his pedigree, he’s viewed from this corner as a plodder.  Remember when he set the lead going super-slow splits in the Remsen at two? Then he got drilled by another speed at Gulfstream? Then he won with a pace meltdown?  HONOR CODE does find his way into races that go really well for him, but this #plodsohard was given a bone-headed ride last time in the G2 Alysheba.  Rather than be midpack or pressing off an honest pace, HONOR CODE was sent to the back and left with too much to do.  Perhaps Castellano will time HONOR CODE’s one run better this time, and HONOR CODE is a neck away from being undefeated around one turn.  While WICKED STRONG and HONOR CODE or quite similar and could be used interchangably, the edge is to WICKED STRONG based on the fact he’ll have less public momentum and should be a tick (or more) higher on the toteboard.

Selections:

#4 TONALIST (5/2)

#6 WICKED STRONG (6/1)

#5 HONOR CODE (6/1)

Longshot: Some trainers like to work their horses in company.  #9 TAMARKUZ (10/1) comes from these company works, as he’s the workmate of Frosted, who goes in the Belmont Stakes.  Winner of the G2 Godolphin Mile on Dubai World Cup Day in March, he’s unseen since that victory which capped off a nifty campaign at Meydan.  He won four times out of his five outs in this winter’s carnival.  TAMARKUZ comes stateside for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin – who has long been tied to Shadwell Stable.  McLaughlin hits at 22% wins when coming off medium-length layoffs, he’ll get a target to chase as the “other” McLaughlin BAY OF PLENTY will be out on the pace, and he gets first time lasix.  TAMARKUZ might also float in the wagering in here, given the amount of fair-weather money going to fan friendly horses like HONOR CODE and TONALIST.

Belmont Park — Race 11 — G1 Belmont Stakes — One and one half miles on dirt — post time 5:50 PM ET

Be sure to check out the joint preview from both Paul and Nicolle as they break down the whole field in the Belmont Stakes.

***

You can take “Picks & Ponderings” with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Arlington International Racecourse. And you can get “Picks and Ponderings” in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking “Create Subscription.” It’s a FREE service, and you’ll never get any unwanted spam.

Comments

Leave a comment
  • fb_avatar

    Will American Pharoah win the Triple Crown tomorrow?
    Here is the scientific answer based on 25 years of historical data: http://bit.ly/1KJDj9a

  • Atakan,

    Thanks for sharing the detailed analysis. I can see trying to beat him - history and pace structure just are not kind to AMERICAN PHAROAH. Additional thanks for reading. --PM

Leave a comment