The beauty for horseplayers and horse racing fans alike in Saturday’s Grade 1 Metropolitan Stakes, popularly known as the Met Mile, is the variety of runners meeting in the Belmont Park starting gate for a one-turn mile.

Vekoma-Met Mile
One of the most underrated horses in the country, Vekoma splashed home to win the Carter Handicap by 7 1/4 lengths last month. The competition increases dramatically in Saturday’s Met Mile at Belmont Park. (Image: NYRA)

Sprinters? They’re there with Vekoma, Hog Creek Hustle and Network Effect. Routers? How about the likes of Code of Honor, McKinzie, Mr. Freeze and Warrior’s Charge?

That’s a lot of versatile talent taking on a race normally run as the No. 1 event on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Before that, the Met Mile – which dates to 1891 – ran on Memorial Day. This year, courtesy of the coronavirus, it runs on the Fourth of July. But whenever the Met Mile runs, any race with Native Dancer, Buckpasser, Conquistador Cielo, Holy Bull, Shackleford, Honor Code, Frosted and last year’s winner – Mitole – on its winner’s roll comes legitimate.

That versatility makes handicappers earn their keep breaking this race down. Can a sprinter like Vekoma – last seen a month ago winning the Grade 1 Carter Handicap in the slop by 7 ¼ lengths – prevail? Of course he can, even with his “paddler” running style.

Vekoma Just Paddles Along to the Winner’s Circle

Vekoma owns five victories and a third in seven starts running with his left front leg swinging out. Somehow, it works for a horse who is 4-for-4 in one-turn races, won the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass Stakes last year and who rolled to a 110 Beyer Speed Figure in the seven-furlong Carter.

What about a pure router like 2/1 morning line favorite McKinzie? Well, between his Bob Baffert connection, “Big Money” Mike Smith in the irons and the fact he finished second by an eyelash to Mitole last year, there’s a reason he’s the favorite. Had Smith not gotten McKinzie boxed in down the stretch, we’d be talking about him going back-to-back, since the moment McKinzie got an opening, he shot through it and nearly caught Mitole at the finish line.

On paper, McKinzie is the fastest horse in the field. He owns 10 triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in 16 races and has won at seven furlongs and 1 ¼ miles. And he’s hit the board in 14 of 16 races.

Code of Honor Can Decipher Any Distance

How about a router like Code of Honor? You bet. His resume includes victories in the 1 ¼-mile Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup, the 1 1/16-mile Westchester last month and the one-mile Dwyer last summer. He also broke his maiden in a six-furlong race, making him one of those rare creatures to win at distances from six furlongs to 10.

Those are five of his six wins in 11 races. In last summer’s Dwyer at Belmont Park, Code of Honor finished off the field by 3 ¼ lengths with a sizzling 23-second final quarter mile. The Westchester was his third Belmont Park victory in four races, with a second in the Grade 1 Champagne last summer.

Met Mile

Morning Line (jockey)

  1. Network Effect, 8/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr.)
  2. Vekoma, 5/2 (Javier Castellano)
  3. McKinzie, 2/1 (Mike Smith)
  4. Hog Creek Hustle, 30/1 (Jose Ortiz)
  5. Code of Honor, 3/1 (John Velazquez)
  6. Endorsed, 10/1 (Joel Rosario)
  7. Mr. Freeze, 8/1 (Manny Franco)
  8. Warrior’s Charge, 12/1 (Florent Geroux)

What about a hybrid like Warrior’s Charge? At 12/1 on the morning line, he may provide the best value on the board. He certainly possesses the most early speed and will immediately set the pace. After finishing a credible fourth in last spring’s Preakness Stakes, Warrior’s Charge unplugged until December, when he popped in to Fair Grounds and won an allowance.

This year, Warrior’s Charge went gate-to-wire in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap, then tried to blow the field away again in the Oaklawn Handicap 2 ½ months later – only to have By My Standards deny him. The cutback to a mile should be just what Warrior’s Charge needs to sustain his charge.

The Met Mile Stresses Getting Exotic With Your Bets

So yes, once again, the Met Mile is a racing fan’s best friend and possibly a horseplayer’s worst enemy – depending on his handicapping acumen. The best play comes in the vertical exotics: exactas, trifectas and superfectas, since a value horse is likely to hit the board.

Variety being the spice of life is what makes the Met Mile one of the hottest races of the summer.

The pick: Code of Honor. Along with five-time Met Mile-winning rider John Velazquez aboard, he checks all the boxes in this race. As much as I like McKinzie and Smith’s vengeance angle and form, he’s lost six of his last nine starts at short odds. Make sure you use him and Warrior’s Code in your exotics.