Vekoma took the initiative in his quest to capture the Grade 1, $500,000 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. With his front-running strategy, he won as the co-favorite and added to his fast growing resume.
The odd-striding colt shows a sharp 3 for 3 record in 2020 and six wins in eight overall starts. Vekoma also owns two Grade 1 victories on his resume now, as well as two Grade 2 races from his previous seasons.
In this case, the winning move happened in the opening quarter.
Although Vekoma ran as a presser or stalker in the past, he took advantage of sharp break and went to the front to take command under Javier Castellano.
Watch him reach the lead before Warrior’s Charge came forward.
Vekoma kept a one-length advantage of Warrior’s Charge as he took them through an opening quarter of 22.73, a moderate fraction for this level on a fast surface.
Network Effect chased in third, with another two lengths back to Endorsed and McKinzie in fourth and fifth. Not too far behind, Mr Freeze, Hog Creek Hustle and Code of Honor made up the last group in a surprisingly compact field.
A compact field is typically the sign of a slower pace. In a fast pace, the field usually fractures, resulting in large gaps between horses.
After a half-mile in 45.87, Vekoma continued on with the lead. Warrior’s Charge did inch up closer around the turn and began to threaten. Endorsed and McKinzie ranged up on the outside, as Code of Honor started to uncork his run while even wider. Network Effect ran behind horses and had some run, but he needed to find room on the inside.
At the top of the stretch though, Vekoma dug down and kept fighting.
Network Effect had a clear path after Warrior’s Charge’s retreat and inched forward. Code of Honor kept plugging away on the outside. Yet, Vekoma retained his advantage to the wire and won by 1 ¼ lengths.
Vekoma deserves credit for securing the lead over a dedicated pacesetter in Warrior’s Charge, keeping him at bay and holding off the closers.
Yet, there are a few points to nitpick about his win. For one, Vekoma received an uncontested lead through moderate fractions at most.
In other words, Vekoma enjoyed an optimal trip. But one can also argue that Vekoma earned the trip in the opening quarter by breaking sharp.
Also, the top five horses finished close together at the end with only two lengths separating Vekoma and the fifth-place finisher McKinzie. Only 6 ½ lengths separated the entire eight-horse field in all. Narrow margins are not a great sign in dirt racing.
Perhaps the horse to take out of this race is Code of Honor. He sat in last early, behind Hog Creek Hustle, and closed into that moderate pace for third while running wide.
With that said, Vekoma keeps on winning in his 4-year-old season. Sometimes when former Kentucky Derby horses stay in training, they develop into nice horses.
Tacitus romps in Suburban Stakes
But who did Tacitus defeat?
The second-place Moretti came into the race in sharp form after winning the Flat Out Stakes. However, he had never won any graded stakes race before and spent five races in the allowance ranks before the Flat Out.
Parsimony finished third. Before the race, his only two wins were the ungraded Curlin Stakes at Meydan and a maiden race at Santa Anita.
Mr. Buff faded to fifth after contesting the pace. His form against New York-breds was sharp and contained lofty speed figures. But he always has folded and failed to hit the board at the graded stakes level.
Sir Winston defeated Tacitus in the 2019 Belmont Stakes on this course. In this race, he trailed by double-digit lengths at nearly every point. It's possible something went physically wrong with Sir Winston.
Keep those notes in mind when Tacitus faces better horses.
Is Got Stormy done after disappointing Poker run?
Got Stormy had lost three straight races coming into the Poker, including lackluster fourth-place finishes in the Endeavour Stakes (G3) and Beaugay Stakes (G3). She did display life with a runner-up finish in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) though. But from a visual standpoint, she did not resemble the filly who ran second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
The Endeavour and Beaugay both were 1 1/16-mile races. For bettors supporting Got Stormy, they figured a cutback to one mile would help.
She started off fine. Got Stormy tracked the pacesetter Dream Friend through slow 24.50 and 49.28 fractions while slightly rank.
She then took the lead at the top of the stretch, but offered zero punch. Social Paranoia, Seismic Wave and Value Proposition all passed her.
At the end, she lost by 3 ¼ lengths, which is a significant margin in turf racing. For what it is worth, some observers argue John Velazquez made a mistake in holding her back early. Perhaps Got Stormy needed to create more separation on the turn before facing the closers?
In all likelihood though, Got Stormy is not a top turf miler anymore.