By Tom Quigley
$500,000 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park.
Race 9 (Saturday, July 4, 2020: 5:47 p.m./ET; 2:47 p.m./PT)
One mile on the main track (three-year-olds and upward)
Last year, MITOLE won the Metropolitan Mile (G1) before winning two more Grade I races, the Forego (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), to end an Eclipse award winning 2019. Fast forward to this Saturday, when eight top class older handicap horses compete in the 2020 edition of the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) in search of a Grade I victory to kick off their summer racing season. Do we have a future Breeders’ Cup champion and Eclipse Award winner amongst this bunch? Perhaps. Let’s take a closer look at this star-studded field:
#1 NETWORK EFFECT was no match for #2 VEKOMA in the Carter (G1) over a wet track last time out, losing by seven lengths. Although he will likely compete over a fast track this weekend, all signs indicate he will need to run faster than he ever has.
#2 VEKOMA ran a hole in the wind in the Carter (G1) on June 6, dispatching of his rivals in upper stretch before drawing off to win by open lengths while earning a career high 110 Beyer Speed Figure. One has to wonder whether he may regress after such a big effort, and the track is not projected to be as wet as it was for the Carter (G1). Nonetheless, this is a very talented horse that possesses an attractive, tactical running style. Legit player.
#3 MCKINZIE, the 125 lb. highweight, was unlucky to lose to MITOLE last year in the Metropolitan Mile (G1), suffering a traffic filled trip in upper stretch before rallying for second. Another that figures to get a good, stalking trip. Son of STREET SENSE makes his second start of a layoff for trainer Bob Baffert and regular rider Mike Smith.
#4 HOG CREEK HUSTLE comes off a second-place finish in a third level allowance race at Churchill Downs. The last time we saw him race at a one-turn mile, he finished eight lengths behind #7 MR. FREEZE in the Gulfstream Park Dirt Mile (G2). Wil likely go off at a big price.
#5 CODE OF HONOR makes his second start off a seven-month layoff for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who wins at a 20% clip with his trainees making their second start off a vacation longer than 180 days. Son of NOBLE MISSION sports a bullet workout leading up to this race and was last seen defeating #6 ENDORSED in the Westchester (G3) over this track, where he sports a record of three wins from four starts. Last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner is certainly a serious win candidate.
#6 ENDORSED was a better than looked second behind #5 CODE OF HONOR in his first stakes start, the Westchester (G3), for the Bill Mott barn. With that in mind, he has finished behind that aforementioned rival in two other prior starts as well. Exotics placing may be his ceiling unless he takes a significant step forward.
#7 MR. FREEZE cuts back in distance and freshens up two months after finishing third as the favorite to BY MY STANDARDS and #8 WARRIOR’S CHARGE in the mile-and-an-eighth, two-turn Oaklawn Handicap (G2). He thrives racing a one-turn mile, with two wins and a second from three starts at the distance. Worthy of a second look.
#8 WARRIOR’S CHARGE is expected to set the pace form the outside post. Some handicappers may prefer him going two turns, but one should respect the cutback in distance/fitness edge, and he hails from the red-hot Brad Cox barn. In with a shot at what will probably be a decent price.
1. #3 MCKINZIE – Mr. Baffert will have him ready to fire.
2. #2 VEKOMA - Four-year-old colt finding his best stride.
3. #5 CODE OF HONOR - Classy guy loves this oval.
Longshot Value Play: #8 WARRIOR’S CHARGE - Could be tough if he shakes loose up top.
I’ll make a straight win bet on my top choice and box my top two selections and longshot value play underneath in exotics.
Bankroll Play ($50 Budget)
#20 Win: #3 MCKINZIE
$5 Exacta Box: #2 VEKOMA and #3 MCKINZIE and #8 WARRIOR’S CHARGE ($30).
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