Zipse: This Met Mile could outshine the Belmont Stakes

May 20, 2019 02:23pm

On one of American racing's most important days, the Belmont Stakes is the headliner for Belmont Park's June 8 program. While the final leg of the Triple Crown is always a must-see, it's actually a race on the undercard to which I am most looking forward.

Since the days of the Sysonby-Race King dead heat, the Met Mile (G1) has been one of the most exciting races held on U.S. soil. A wonderful mix of top route-running horses meeting high-class sprinters, the one-turn battle at Belmont Park figures to be another corker in 2019.

I'm sure there will be several more to join the
Grade 1, $1.2 million fray, but looking at the early probables, the first six on the list promise a mouth watering event. Officially named the Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, the historic affair will go off before the Belmont, but it might just steal the show.

Let's begin with the likely favorite.
McKinzie has been a top-notch runner ever since becoming a Grade 1 winner in his second career start. That victory came in December of his 2-year-old season in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1). He missed Triple Crown season last year and threw in a clunker against older in the Breeders' Cup Classic. But aside from that, he has been as consistent as they come, finishing first or second in nine of 10 career starts, with the last nine coming in nothing but graded stakes racing. 

The son of the Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense is trained by Bob Baffert. The Hall of Fame conditioner has found no luck in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but he remains a constant threat in most of America's biggest races, and he did get a big win on Kentucky Derby weekend. The scene was the Alysheba Stakes (G2), and the star of the show was McKinzie.

McKinzie showed no sign of dullness coming out of the 10-furlong Santa Anita Handicap. What he did show was heaps of class, turning away his competition with disdainful ease. The 4 3/4-length romp is proof positive that the winner of 6-of-10 lifetime will be coming into the Met Mile in top form.

One of many fast horses McKinzie will have to deal with in the Met Mile is
Firenze Fire. A one-turn specialist wherever he runs, the Jason Servis-trained charge is best over the main track at Belmont Park. In three tries at "Big Sandy," 4-year-old son of Poseidon's Warrior is a perfect 3-for-3.

Firenze Fire became a Grade 1 winner in his first try at Belmont, when he accounted for the Champagne Stakes at 2. That win put him on the Derby trail, but 10 furlongs was not his game.
A bit of an afterthought when he finished in the middle of the pack in last year's Kentucky Derby, Firenze Fire has flourished running shorter -- especially at Belmont. Last summer he blitzed good competition in the one mile Dwyer Stakes (G3).

Like McKinzie, he'll come into the Met Mile off an impressive victory, having cantered away from his competition in the recent six-furlong Runhappy Stakes, winning in 1:08 flat for the six furlongs. After the race, owner Ron Lombardi made their intentions clear: "The plan is the Met Mile. Obviously, he loves six furlongs, but I don't think a mile would have bothered him today."

Speaking of talented sprinters, how about
Mitole? The son of Eskendereya has taken the sprinting world by storm since returning from a long layoff. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he's won six consecutive races in impressive style. Three of those wins came before the layoff, with three since the return, and his last was his best yet.

Most recently he soared to victory on Kentucky Derby day with a 3 1/2-length score in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1). Beating his toughest competition to date, he finished the seven furlongs in racehorse time of 1:21.21. Considering his record, look for him to be the most likely horse to vie for favoritism with McKinzie.

“He’s for real," Asmussen said after the race. "Everyone has always been beaming about his potential, and he met his potential today and is now a Grade 1 winner."

Already the winner of a rich eight-furlong event this year, the Todd Pletcher-trained
Coal Front will be making his first start since winning the Godolphin Mile (G2) in Dubai. A 5-year-old son of Stay Thirsty, Coal Front seems to be putting it all together this season. A winner of the seven-furlong Mr. Prospector (G3) to finish off 2018, he proved able to win going farther with a game win in the 1 1/16-mile Razorback Handicap (G3) at Oaklawn Park before his successful trip to Dubai.

"It seemed like he shipped back with some good energy, good weight and all the signs that you would hope for coming back from a long trip like that," said Pletcher.

Fresh off saddling Everfast to an unlikely second-place run in the Preakness, trainer Dale Romans is also pointing his crack sprinter
Promises Fulfilled to the big race.

Unlike the first four listed here, Promises Fulfilled will not be coming in off a win, but make no mistake, he is a very fast and classy sprinter. Most recently, he battled on a hot pace before finishing third behind Mitole in the Churchill Downs. Look for the four-time graded stakes winner last year to be out setting the early pace in the Met Mile.

"He ran well at Churchill Downs off of a quick turnaround from Dubai. I want to go a mile with him," Romans said of his Grade 1 winner. 

Keep in mind, these five could be only the tip of the iceberg for the Met Mile. Monday's news from overseas is that the two-time Dubai World Cup winner,
Thunder Snow, could make his return to American racing in the Met Mile.

The Belmont will be interesting as always, but on June 8, don't be too surprised if the Met Mile is the race of the day.


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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