Metropolitan Handicap 2020: Odds and analysis

Metropolitan Handicap 2020: Odds and analysis
As always, the Grade 1, $500,000 Metropolitan Stakes at Belmont Park on Saturday is an excellent race featuring a group of quality sprinters and routers competing in a one-turn mile. Eight entries are set to contest the “stallion-making” race, and at first glance, it is not an easy one for handicappers to decipher.

Even despite fast fractions, the last few years has showed that speed is an asset in the Met Mile. Bee Jersey and Mitole used their speed to win in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

In this edition, the pace scenario is interesting as it features only one true pacesetter in Warrior’s Charge. The only question is whether he offers enough class to win. In some cases, even if the horse holds the pace advantage, the better horse prevails. But there are also situations where a lesser-talented horse holds on with the lead. 

The Met Mile is carded as Race 9 with a post time of 5:47 EST. Odds are provided by Horse Racing Nation

1. Network Effect, 12-1 (Mark Valeski – Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz Jr. – 8: 3-4-0): Network Effect flashed promise early in his career with runner-up finishes in the 2018 Nashua Stakes (G2) and Remsen Stakes (G2). However, the hype flickered off with a long layoff and non-threatening eighth in the 2019 Cigar Mile (G1). More recently, he won the Florida-bred restricted Big Drama Stakes in May, before a second-place finish in the local Carter Handicap (G1) against the sharp Vekoma. Vekoma beat Network Effect by 7 ¼ lengths, making Network Effect’s prospects dim in this spot given Vekoma shows up again along with tougher opponents. Network Effects needs to show he can compete at this level before trusting him. Toss.

2. Vekoma, 9/2 (Candy Ride – George Weaver/Javier Castellano – 7: 5-0-1): This 4-year-old son of Candy Ride owns a nice record with five wins out of seven starts. He threw his only clunker in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, fading to 12th after stalking the pace in the slop. Before that, he won the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) and ran third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2).

More recently, he took the aforementioned Carter after tracking the leader in second and and securing the lead on the turn. He drew well clear of the field, with some of his bizarre paddling motion intact. Post no. 2 is a slight concern, as he won his two races this year while traveling outside. It is a question whether Vekoma can prove as effective from the pocket or behind other horses, if he ends up there. This is a tough decision, but he misses the top slot. Use underneath
.

3. McKinzie, 2-1 (Street Sense – Bob Baffert/Mike Smith – 16: 8-6-0): What a nice record. This 5-year-old horse trained by Bob Baffert owns eight wins in 16 starts, as well as six runner-up placings. His only two clunkers came in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic as a 3-year-old colt and in the Saudi Cup earlier this year, as he ran 12th and 11th in those starts. Perhaps the desert scenery did not agree with him.

Upon return from the Middle East, McKinzie won the Triple Bend Stakes (G2) by 1 ½ lengths at Santa Anita with a closing move from last. In the 2019 Met Mile (G1), he closed from eighth to pick up second behind Mitole after experiencing traffic problems. He is an obvious contender. With Baffert’s name though, the price is low. Win contender.  

4. Hog Creek Hustle, 20-1 (Overanalyze – Vickie Foley/Jose Ortiz – 16: 3-5-2): On paper, it is hard to make a case for this closer. While he won the 2019 Woody Stephens Stakes (G1), he benefited from a pace collapse that resulted in the first three finishers coming from 10th, 11th and eighth. Now he rides a seven-race losing streak. Four of those losses occurred this year, including a third-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2), eighth in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) and second in a Churchill Downs optional claimer to the modest Lexitonian. If he cannot defeat Lexitonian at seven furlongs, it is unlikely he can outkick quality closers such as Code of Honor and McKinzie in this spot, let alone mow down the top speed. Toss.


5. Code of Honor, 5/2 (Noble Mission – Claude McGaughey/John Velazquez – 11: 6-2-1): After finishing third in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Code of Honor went on to capture races such as the Travers Stakes (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) via disqualification. He ran a disappointing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic over a quirky Santa Anita dirt surface. But he took a break after the failure and came back last month, winning the local Westchester Stakes (G3) by half a length over Endorsed. Is the narrow margin over Endorsed concerning? Perhaps trainer Shug McGaughey did not fully tune Code of Honor. Given the long-term importance of this race in terms of a stallion career, there is no doubt he is ready to fire his best. From a pace scenario standpoint, he might need some help up front though. Win contender.

6. Endorsed, 20-1 (Medaglia d’Oro – William Mott/Joel Rosario – 9: 4-2-0): As stated above, he only lost the Westchester by a half length to Code of Honor. Was the margin a result of Code of Honor needing more fitness off the layoff? Prior to the race, Endorsed could only manage two optional claiming wins at Gulfstream and Oaklawn, respectively, as well a fifth-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) this year. Perhaps the muddy track in the Westchester helped, or the switch to trainer Bill Mott. Regardless of why he came close, it is preferable to see him match the effort before trusting him in a tough Grade 1. This time Code of Honor is tuned, as well as the other entries all belonging to connections eager to win a stallion-making race. Toss.

7. Mr Freeze, 8-1 (To Honor and Serve – Dale Romans/Manuel Franco – 13: 5-4-2): Earlier in the year, Mr Freeze set the pace in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational before fading to second behind Mucho Gusto. He then recovered next time by stalking the pace in the Gulfstream Park Mile and drawing away by three lengths. He owns speed at one mile, but perhaps not enough to outgun Warrior’s Charge to the front. Oddly, Joe Talamo opted not to use Mr Freeze’s early speed in the nine-furlong Oaklawn Handicap (G2). The duo tried to close from midpack instead, and it resulted in a third, 1 ¾ lengths behind By My Standards and half a length behind Warrior’s Charge. The cutback helps, but he will need to chase Warrior’s Charge in the initial stages or settle farther back and find a way to outkick quality horses such as McKinzie and Code of Honor late, or face both hard scenarios in a difficult task. Use underneath.

8. Warrior’s Charge, 8-1 (Munnings – Brad Cox/Florent Geroux – 9: 4-1-3): This speedy 4-year-old colt set the pace in the 2019 Preakness Stakes and faded to fourth late, 2 ½ lengths behind War of Will in a credible effort for his first stakes race.

Unfortunately, he went on the shelf afterwards and did not appear again until December, where he took an optional claimer at Fair Grounds. He followed up the winning return by wiring the field in the Razorback Handicap (G3), lasting by a head over Bankit. Then in the Oaklawn Handicap, he tried to wire them, but By My Standards proved best and won over a stubborn Warrior’s Charge.

By My Standards came back to finish second to Tom’s d’Etat in the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2) last weekend. Cutting back to one mile should help Warrior's Charge, a son of Munnings, last longer in the stretch run. After all, who is going to contest the lead with Warrior’s Charge? Vekoma and Mr Freeze own speed at one mile, but neither want the lead. Warrior’s Charge can outbreak Mr Freeze and reach the front. From there, it is only a matter of whether he holds enough class to outrun McKinzie and Code of Honor in the lane. At his expected odds, it is worth taking a shot to find out if he can wire the field. The pick.

Conclusion:

McKinzie and Code of Honor stand out as the two best horses in this race. However, the best horse does not always win and closers are subject to traffic problems.

Given the cutback in distance and the lack of another true pacesetter signed up, Warrior’s Charge can upset the Met Mile. He only needs a clean break and the lead.

All three of those names are usable in multi-race wagers.

From a simple win bet standpoint or exotics though, Warrior’s Charge is the more interesting option to rely on. He is a speedy horse that could move forward. 

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