In a brilliant display of speed and talent, Quality Road staked
his claim as the top horse in the country as he rocketed to a 1 ½-length
victory over Musket Man Monday afternoon in the 117th running of the
Grade 1, $500,000 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park.
Under John Velazquez and top weight of 124 pounds, the
4-year-old Elusive Quality colt dueled with longshot Le Grand Cru through
fractions of 22.55 and 45.19, and then shook off a challenge from Warrior’s
Reward nearing the quarter-pole to open up by two lengths at the top of the
stretch. Rounding the turn, Musket Man picked off five rivals as he barreled
into second but through the stretch could not gain on Quality Road, who flashed under the wire
in 1:33.11 for the mile.
Quality Road’s time tied for the second-fastest ever Met
Mile behind Honour and Glory, who set the stakes record of 1:32.81 in
1996. In 1997, Langfuhr won in 1:33.11, while in 1982, before the advent
of hundredths, Conquistador Cielo won in 1:33 flat.
The victory was the third straight for the Edward P. Evans
homebred, who was making his first start since his track record victory of
1:47.49 in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park
on March 13.
“He’s such a versatile horse,” said trainer Todd Pletcher,
who earned his first victory in the Met Mile. “He set a track record at Saratoga at 6 ½ furlongs
and two track records at Gulfstream at 1 1/8th miles, and he showed
today he’s a brilliant miler. He took the race to everyone and kept on.”
Sent off as the 1-4 favorite in front of a Memorial Day
crowd 9,386 strong, Quality Road
returned $2.50 as he earned $300,000 for Evans. His record now stands at 6-2-1
from nine starts, with earnings of $1,632,830.
“Watching him come back and seeing how he hardly took a deep
breath, it’s unbelievable how talented he is, especially when you consider he
was spotting the runner-up seven pounds and coming off a four-month layoff,”
said Pletcher. “John said he kind of spanked him one time, to give him a
friendly reminder to keep to the task to the finish line, but it seemed like he
had something left and galloped out really, really well.”
Musket Man, no worse than third in all 12 of his lifetime
starts, finished 1 ½ lengths in front of Tizway, who in turn was followed by
Convocation, Le Grand Cru, Warrior’s Reward, Kensei, and You and I Forever.
“I had an absolutely great trip, my horse settled
great and made a huge run,” said Ramon Dominguez, aboard the runner-up. “I got
a little excited turning for home, but of course the winner didn’t really come
back at all. I’m very proud of my horse. He ran hard, and he tried hard every
step of the way. He ran a winning race, but he just happened to run into a
As a 3-year-old, Quality
Road was an early favorite for the Kentucky Derby
after his 1:47.72 victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, but was sidelined by
foot problems. In his first start back, he set a record of 1:13.74 for 6 ½
furlongs at Saratoga in the Grade 2 Amsterdam, then finished third in the Grade
1 Travers and second in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, beaten both times by
eventual 3-Year-Old Champion Male Summer Bird. In what was to have been his
final start of the year, he was scratched from the Breeders’ Cup Classic after
acting up at the gate.
With the 2010 Classic firmly in mind for Quality Road, Pletcher has penciled in
the Grade 1 Whitney on August 7 and the Grade 1 Woodward on September 4, both
but said he might consider starting the colt next month.
“We’ll see how he comes out of this,” said Pletcher. “There
might be a race between now and the Whitney or not. We could take a look at the
Suburban [Grade 2, July 3, Belmont Park], but you want to make sure he’s still
peaking in November, too, so you want to be careful how many times you take him
over there. But my first impression was that this was not a taxing race.”