Flat Out will attempt to continue his reign over
Park when he faces eight competitors, including seven graded stakes winners, on Monday in the 121st running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap for 3-year-olds and up.
Photo: Eclipse Spotswire - Sue Kawczynski
The Met Mile is one of four graded stakes on the Memorial Day
card, which will also feature the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap, Grade 1
Acorn, and Grade 2 Sands Point,
as well as a cooler bag giveaway. The Ogden Phipps, Acorn, and Met Mile
will serve as the first, second, and third legs of the $500,000
Guaranteed Late Pick 4.
Flat Out already has a win in the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Suburban
Handicap and a pair of triumphs in the Grade 1, 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club
Gold Cup at
Park to his credit. After Flat Out finished
fourth in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in February at Gulfstream Park and
fifth in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap in March at the Fair Grounds
to begin his 2013 campaign, his Hall of Fame
trainer, Bill Mott, elected to enter the 7-year-old in the Grade 3,
one-mile Westchester, Belmont’s prep race for the Met Mile, on April 27.
Always within 2 ½ lengths of the leader, Flat Out moved up to
challenge Cross Traffic nearing the quarter pole and used nearly every
step of Belmont’s 1,097-foot stretch
to wear down the pacesetter and prevail by a head. Both Flat Out and
Cross Traffic received Beyer Speed Figures of 115 for their
Westchester performances, the highest figure for any race at one mile or less so far in 2013.
“We ran him at a flat mile last time, and he ran very well,”
said Mott, who trains Flat Out for Preston Stables. “I had always wanted
to try him at that distance. He’s
doing well and the Met Mile is a very important race, and he’s a horse
who won’t be compromised by [the one-mile] distance, which bodes pretty
well for him.”
Flat Out was made the 5-2 morning-line favorite and 120-pound
co-highweight for the Met Mile. Junior Alvarado has the assignment from
post position 6.
Cross Traffic, the only horse in the field who hasn’t won a graded stakes, will have the chance to avenge his
Westchester defeat when he makes his fourth career start in the Met Mile. He opened his career at
Gulfstream Park, debuting a 1 ¾-length winner in January and romping by 7 ½ lengths in an optional claimer in March before his start in the
“It’s pretty rare that you see a horse who has come that far in
such a short time,” said Pletcher of the GoldMark Farm color-bearer. “He
was an unraced 4-year-old at
the start of the year. He ran a huge race in the Westchester. He just lost to a tough, seasoned veteran who seems to love
Belmont. We were very pleased with his race, and he’s doing just as well or even better than he came into [the
Westchester, Cross Traffic left from
the inside post, ran a half-mile in 45.33 seconds while racing on a
clear lead, faced a challenge from Flat Out at the quarter pole, and
bravely fought to the wire before yielding in the
final sixteenth of a mile. Cross Traffic drew the rail once again in
the Met Mile.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride Cross Traffic, the 3-1 second choice who was assigned 117 pounds.
Discreet Dancer won his first graded stakes when he dominated
the one-mile, Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 9, then was
third to Swagger Jack and Sahara Sky
in Aqueduct Racetrack’s Grade 1 Carter Handicap at seven furlongs on
April 6, his first start away from Gulfstream.
“The Carter came up a very fast race,” said Pletcher of the E.
Paul Robsham Stables homebred. “He won the mile race at Gulfstream, and
we think the mile suits him well.
He’s coming up to it in good order, so we’re excited about his chances
Discreet Dancer, assigned 117 pounds, drew post 2 and was tabbed at 6-1 on the morning line.
Both Swagger Jack and Sahara Sky will face Discreet Dancer again in the Met Mile.
After finishing second in both the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park
Sprint Championship in February and the Gulfstream Park Handicap,
Silverton Hill’s Swagger Jack broke through
with a three-quarter length victory in the Carter, racing in fifth to
the quarter pole, swooping to the lead a sixteenth from the finish, and
holding off Sahara Sky’s late charge.
“His style is well-suited for the one-turn mile,” said trainer
Marty Wolfson. “He makes one run, and there should be enough speed in
the race to set it up for him. I’m
hoping the race plays out similarly to the Carter.”
Swagger Jack, 12-1, will carry 118 pounds, including Irad Ortiz, Jr., from post 5.
Sahara Sky upset the Grade 2 Palos Verdes at 21-1 in January at
Santa Anita, validating that score with a win in that venue’s Grade 2
San Carlos in February. The Met
Mile has been his long-range target since the San Carlos, with the Carter serving as a prep race.
In the Carter, Sahara Sky trailed the field in sixth in the
early stages, commenced a belated rally at the eighth pole, and was
gaining on Swagger Jack at the end. Joel
Rosario, aboard Sahara Sky in the Carter, has the assignment again in
the Met Mile.
“I think [Rosario
will] now know him a little better and, hopefully, ride him a little
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who owns Sahara Sky in
partnership with Kim Lloyd. “I don’t think [the extra distance] should
be a problem for him with his running style.”
Sahara Sky, co-highweight at 120 pounds, drew post 7 and was installed at 6-1 on the morning line.
Mark Valeski, a Brereton Jones homebred, is returning to the scene of his biggest win, the 2012 Grade 2 Peter Pan.
Sidelined for the remainder of his 3-year-old season following
the Peter Pan in May, he was second in his return race, the Louisiana
Handicap in January. He added a
second graded stakes victory in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap in
February and enters the Met Mile off a runner-up performance in the
Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap on March 30. All three of his starts this
year have come at the Fair Grounds around two turns.
The Met Mile will be his first start around one turn since the Peter
“He handled the track real well [in the Peter Pan], and even
though the race was a mile and an eighth he showed he liked the one
turn,” said trainer Larry Jones. “He
broke his maiden in a sprint, and he has more speed to burn than we
normally let him use. They’ll be churning and burning out there, so
he’ll have more pace to run at, but he blew out well the other day and
showed he’s sharp.”
Mark Valeski, 5-1 and assigned 117 pounds, will leave from post 3 with Rosie Napravnik aboard.
The field also includes Fort Loudon, fourth in the Carter;
Handsome Mike, fourth in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes; and Fed
Biz, who returns to dirt after finishing
second in the Thunder Road Stakes at Santa Anita.