2016 Met Mile Preview and Saturday Belmont Park Stakes Selections

Here at Picks and Ponderings, we turn our attention to stakes races at a pair of tracks: Belmont and Arlington.

Our Belmont coverage starts on Friday, though, with our New York Stakes preview and Friday selections.  It continues Saturday.  This preview will focus on Saturday’s Met Mile — and the bottom of the page contains our selections in all of Saturday’s stakes races at Belmont.  We also have a Belmont Stakes point/counterpoint in a separate piece, going horse-by-horse through the field of the final leg of the Triple Crown.

We also have coverage of a pair of stakes races at Arlington.  Paul Mazur previews a pair of sprint stakes for the Illinois-bred three-and-up set, the Addison Cammack Handicap and the Isaac Murphy Handicap.

The Metropolitan Handicap, popularly called the Met Mile began its life in 1891 as a nine-furlong race at Morris Park.  In 1897 it was shortened to its current mile distance, at which it has been run ever since.  It was long a fixture of Memorial Day weekend at Belmont Park, though in the last two years it has been the highest-profile dirt race for older horses on the Belmont Stakes undercard.  The race has a reputation as a stallion-maker, and with good reason.  A host of stallions have won this race, the most preeminent of whom being Native Dancer (1954), Buckpasser (1967), and In Reality (1968).   Though his premature death cut his stud career short after four seasons at stud, onetime Arlington stakes namesake Equipoise won the Met Mile in 1932 and 1933, and was 1942’s leading sire on the strength of dual classic winner Shut Out.  More recently, Shackleford (2012) has seen a promising start at stud.  His first crop hit the track this year, and includes impressive Arlington maiden winner Shackin Up.

Palace Malice wills himself past eventual two-time Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents to win the 2014 Met Mile.

The NBC family of networks provides television coverage for Saturday at Belmont.  From 3:00 PM ET to 5:00 PM ET coverage of the stakes-rich undercard airs on NBC Sports Network.  At 5:00 PM ET, the coverage continues uninterrupted but flips networks, to NBC. NBC will air the Belmont Stakes live, in a program airing from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET.  The television coverage goes back to NBC Sports Network at 7:00 PM ET for a post-race wrap-up show that airs from 7:00 PM ET to 7:30 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 7:00 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 high definition video of the races for users who have created an account on the NYRA site.  Creating an account is free, and does not require New York residency.

Updated June 10 to account for the expected scratches of SLOANE AVENUE and EL KABEIR.

Saturday, June 11: Belmont Park

Race 9: Mohegan Sun Metropolitan H. (GI), three-year-olds and up, one mile on the dirt, post time 4:41pm EDT

This year’s Met Mile drew no shortage of speed.  Though no one is a true can’t-rate type, ANCHOR DOWN looks the speed of it, but plenty of others are going to want to be right up there: STANFORD, the classy yet inconsistent NOBLE BIRD, perhaps even AMI’S FLATTER.  Plenty of others are happy stalking in range — enough to suggest the pace will be somewhere between honest and stiff.  This all adds up to be CALCULATOR’s best chance yet for a Grade I victory.  Most of his form comes at seven furlongs, suggesting he takes well to the extended sprint configuration.  CALCULATOR also has a win at a two-turn mile at Santa Anita; though it came against weaker in the Sham Stakes (GIII) last year, it suggests he has the gas to get a mile.  He gets a local rider in Junior Alvarado, and Alvarado has ridden him to a pair of seconds in graded company in his last two starts.  If you can get 8/1, much less the morning line of 10/1, on CALCULATOR?  Once you do the math, you’ll be running to the windows.

Next, we get to FROSTED — the lukewarm morning line favourite, in his first race since Dubai.  He is tops among three horses trainer Kiaran McLaughlin sends into the Met Mile.  It is also his first start since a disappointing run in the Dubai World Cup in March.  But, FROSTED has solid form off the lay: a win in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (GII – UAE) off an even longer lay, and a second in the Jim Dandy (GII) off a two-month break last year.  He should be fine off the lay, and has a solid worktab stateside.  The pace should also work well; he should appreciate the target, but be well enough in range not to have too much to do if the track plays for speed on the big day.  He should like the cutback from the Classic distance, too.  FROSTED is just plain solid here: a classy horse who likes the track and gets a sweet setup.

Next, we will go to the Todd Pletcher barn.  No, not that Pletcher horse.  No, not that Pletcher either.  It seems a bit counterproductive for stablemates STANFORD and ANCHOR DOWN to be in this race.  Both do their best work on the front end — but, though STANFORD is the better horse, ANCHOR DOWN has even more early speed, and will make things more difficult.  Whereas, BLOFELD, the other other Pletcher?  He’s the son of Met Mile winner Quality Road, already has a pair of wins at a one-turn mile, and has a win over Big Sandy as well.  He is the sort to track in range, but does not need the lead.  A mile and an eighth proved too long last out, but he plugged along as well as he could be expected to against horses who were far better suited for the distance.  Here BLOFELD cuts back to a far more suitable distance, and gets a favourable setup.  If he cannot tolerate failure, he is The Toddster’s best shot to win Met Mile Number Three.


#11 CALCULATOR (10/1)

#5 FROSTED (7/2)

#2 BLOFELD (8/1)

Longshot:  Though #6 UPSTART (20/1) has been focusing on nine and ten furlongs in recent times, there are some suggestions in his back lines that he could go shorter.  He won some sprints at two, and was second at the one-turn mile at Belmont in the Champagne at age 2.  It has been a long time since he has focused at anything this short, but his pedigree suggests he could be a fine miler.  The blinkers on is a bit of a question, suggesting that Rick Violette is trying to get him a bit closer to the pace, perhaps like he was earlier in his career.  He also gets a switch back to rider Irad Ortiz, who is firing at a solid 16% so far this Belmont meet, and races horses with UPSTART’s running style well.  With solid works leading into this race as well, UPSTART has enough to intrigue on the cutback, at likely boxcar odds.


Below are all of our picks — from both Nicolle Neulist and Paul Mazur — for the stakes races on Friday’s card at Belmont. This will be updated as we finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about why we landed on a particular horse, please leave us a comment, or tweet us at @picksponderings!


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