One example of how deep Saturday’s Belmont Stakes card is comes to you via the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, best known as the Met Mile.
This is a race that should be on its own, which it was as a Memorial Day staple until 2014 when the New York Racing Association put it on the Belmont Stakes undercard. With the pandemic wreaking scheduling havoc last year, the Met Mile ran on July 4 last year. On the Belmont Stakes undercard, it’s a first-among-equals among the seven Grade 1s not named the Belmont Stakes.
The one-turn, $1 million Met Mile is one of those historic marquee races that could headline any non-Triple Crown, non-Breeders’ Cup card in the country. As it does, the race doubles as a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge race for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
The Met Mile dates to the 1890s when it was first run at ancient Morris Park in 1891. The race’s winner’s roll unspools more than a century’s worth of talent, including Mitole (2019), Palace Malice (2014), Ghostzapper (2005), Holy Bull (1994), Conquistador Cielo (1982), Forego (1976 and 1977), Arts and Letters (1969), Buckpasser (1967), Kelso (1961), Sword Dancer (1959), Gallant Man (1958) and Native Dancer (1954).
The Met Mile-Belmont double is one for the books
Three of those winners stand — Conquistador Cielo, Arts and Letters, and Sword Dancer — stand out from the pack. Those three won the Met Mile and the Belmont Stakes in the same year. Palace Malice, who won the 2013 Belmont, came back the next year and seized the Met Mile. He’s the last horse claiming both titles, a tribute to his versatility.
There isn’t a Belmont Stakes winner in this year’s six-horse field, but there is Knicks Go — he of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile title. And there’s Belmont Stakes runner-up, Dr Post, he of the pandemic year Belmont finish behind Tiz the Law last June.
Knicks Go returns from a three-month hiatus taken after his fourth-place finish in the Feb. 20 Saudi Cup. Trainer Brad Cox gave Knicks Go the spring off after that race, which broke a four-race winning streak for the 5-year-old son of Paynter. Cox targeted the Met Mile after Bob Baffert’s Charlatan pulled out with an undisclosed physical issue.
“He seemed to recover really well. We were pointing him for the race at Lone Star in the Sexton Mile, but with the defection of Charlatan, it gave us enough confidence to put our name in the hat for the Met Mile,” Cox told the NYRA. “I think this will be a good experience for the horse. He breezed extremely well Sunday and had a huge gallop out. I feel like we’re in a good spot with him and going the right way.”
Knicks Go faces interesting challenge
Knicks Go’s speed and class make him an understandable 6/5 favorite. Cox, however, sees one possible hole in Knicks Go’s game. “Outside of Saudi, I haven’t really gone one turn with him, so it’ll be interesting to see because it’s a little bit of a question mark,” Cox said. “But he’s won going five-eighths as a 2-year-old, so if the race sets up, I feel confident we can get a good trip and be effective.”
That you probably forgot about Dr Post (9/2) is understandable. After his second to Tiz the Law in the 1 1/8-mile Belmont, Dr Post was a third-place afterthought to Authentic and Ny Traffic in the Grade 1 Haskell last July. He added a fourth in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga in early September, then Todd Pletcher put him on the shelf for the next eight months.
Dr Post’s dad won a Met Mile
Pletcher brought him back for the Grade 3 Westchester on May 1 – Kentucky Derby Day. While everyone was paying attention to the Churchill Downs happenings, Dr Post won the race with a career-high 103 Beyer Speed Figure. That score in his 4-year-old debut prompted Pletcher to put Dr Post into the Met Mile, a race previously won by his sire, Quality Road (2010). John Velazquez, who owns five Met Mile titles, takes the reins.
“He’s always physically reminded us of Quality Road,” Pletcher said. “He’s a good-training horse and always has been very straightforward and professional. I like the way he ran off the layoff and hopefully he makes another move forward. I’m happy with him.”
One horse who has made plenty of moves forward is Silver State (7/2). Five of them, to be exact, the number of consecutive victories he brings into Belmont Park. Three of those came at Oaklawn Park this winter, including the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. He’s won stakes at a mile, 1 1/16 miles, and 1 1/8 miles. For him to add to this ledger, the Hard Spun prodigy and closer needs some early speed.
Mischevious Alex not a stretch — except distance-wise
On the other end of the speed spectrum is Mischevious Alex (5/2). He comes in off a 5 ½-length dissection of the April 3 Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct — one coming complete with a 109 Beyer. He did win the 2020 Gotham Stakes at the Big A, a one-turn mile. And his last three wins all came by at least three lengths.
But Mischevious Alex faces a test he hasn’t seen yet. It’s one thing to beat B and C-level Derby contenders in the Gotham, or to win a seven-furlong sprint against a soft Grade 1 field like the Carter. It’s another tackling a mile against this field.
Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap/Belmont Park
Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)
- Mischevious Alex, 5/2 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Saffie Joseph Jr.)
- Dr Post, 9/2 (John Velazquez/Todd Pletcher)
- Silver State, 7/2 (Ricardo Santana Jr./Steve Asmussen)
- Lexitonian, 20/1 (Tyler Gaffalione/Jack Sisterson)
- By My Standards, 10/1 (Gabriel Saez/Bret Calhoun)
- Knicks Go, 6/5 (Joel Rosario/Brad Cox)
“In my opinion, he’s the leader of the sprint division, but we run a mile this time, so it’s going to be a big test,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said. “This is the time to try it and if he’s able to accomplish it, it will be a great thing for his resume as a stallion. He’s won a one-turn mile already. He won the Gotham before we had him, so we know he can get the mile. The question will be if he can get the mile against top-class company.”
The pick: Knicks Go. The one-turn question isn’t as pressing as the question surrounding Knicks Go’s readiness in his return. Does he need one race to regain his considerable form? If Knicks Go is rested and ready, the relative lack of speed outside of Mischevious Alex sets up perfectly for his front-running style.