By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
There are plenty of horses
to consider betting in the $500,000
Metropolitan Handicap (G1) on Independence Day at Belmont Park. That's
pretty much standard for the "Met Mile," which has long ranked as one of the
most prestigious and productive races on the North American racing calendar.
The 2-1 morning line
favorite, and understandably so, is #3
McKinzie. Racing for the Hall of Fame team of trainer Bob Baffert and
jockey Mike Smith, McKinzie has been performing at the highest level for three
years, accumulating four Grade 1 wins and a bevy of top-level placings since
his debut in October 2017. A runaway winner of the 2019 Whitney (G1) racing 1
1/8 miles at Saratoga, McKinzie has thrown down triple-digit Beyer speed
figures in 10 of his 16 starts and ranks as the Met Mile's fastest horse on
McKinzie would probably be
vying for a second straight victory in the Metropolitan if not for a
traffic-filled trip in the 2019 edition of this race. Despite a lack of racing
room down the homestretch, McKinzie came charging late to finish second, beaten
less than a length by future Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) champion Mitole.
But therein lies McKinzie's
one weakness—he's prone to finishing second at short prices. McKinzie has lost
six of his nine starts dating back to February 2019, finishing second five
times at odds of 0.50-1, 0.40-1, 1.65-1, 0.30-1, and 2.90-1. Though McKinzie
enters the Met Mile in fine form, having rallied from behind slow fractions to
comfortably win the 7-furlong Triple Bend (G2), I'm not sure I completely trust
McKinzie get the job done at a short price on Saturday.
#2 Vekoma is
another popular contender. The 4-year-old son of Candy Ride won the 1 1/8-mile
Blue Grass (G2) in decisive fashion last year and even competed in the Kentucky
Derby (G1), but negotiating shorter distances is clearly Vekoma's true calling.
The chestnut colt is 4-for-4 in one-turn races and enters the Met Mile off a
powerful triumph in the 7-furlong Carter Handicap (G1) at Belmont, where he
tracked the pace before drawing clear to score by 7 1/4 lengths with a 110
But the Carter was contested
over a sloppy track that Vekoma obviously relished, not surprising since his sire
and damsire are both responsible for a high percentage of winners on wet
tracks. Can Vekoma repeat the effort while racing over a (presumably) dry track
in the Met Mile? Perhaps he can, but Vekoma is well known as a "paddler" whose
left front leg swings outward significantly while he gallops. It doesn't seem
to bother him, but he's also a lightly-raced horse with a record dotted by
layoffs. Running back just four weeks after the Carter (while making his third
start of the season) could make it challenging for this seemingly delicate colt
to fire off another career-best run.
Since I'm hesitant to trust
McKinzie and Vekoma at short prices, I'm going to fall back on #5 Code of Honor as the most likely
winner. He's certainly an appealing alternative, considering he rattled off
back-to-back wins in the Travers (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) racing 1
1/4 miles during his sophomore season.
Code of Honor is best known
for his successes running long, but the 4-year-old son of Noble Mission has
also been highly effective in one-turn races. He was a runaway winner of the
1-mile Dwyer (G3) at Belmont Park last summer, sprinting the final quarter-mile
in approximately :23 flat to win by 3 1/4 lengths, and he kicked off 2020 with
a deceptively easy victory in Belmont's 1 1/16-mile Westhester (G3) on June 6.
Code of Honor's Westchester
effort was eye-catching because he raced wide every step of the way, but
nevertheless rallied smoothly under a confident ride from John Velazquez to win
by a well-measured half-length over the capable #6 Endorsed.
I'm optimistic Code of Honor
will take a step forward in his second start of the season, and since the Met
Mile typically unfolds at a contested tempo, there should be enough pace to set
up his late rally. Run this race five times, and I believe Code of Honor wins
at least twice, so with a 40% chance of winning his 3-1 morning line odds are
For the exotics, I'll
respect the chances of #1 Network Effect,
distant runner-up behind Vekoma in the Carter. A late-running winner of the 7-furlong
Big Drama Stakes at Gulfstream two starts back, Network Effect has run well
going longer and should relish a one-turn mile now that he's back in peak form.
Given a quick pace to work with, Network Effect can rally and finish on the
board for four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Metropolitan Handicap?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!
The Road to the Kentucky Derby handicapping challenge is back for the sixth straight year! Check out the Road to the Kentucky Derby contest page for more details.
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.