Deciphering a Winning Code in the Met Mile

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 paper.

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 Beyer.

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 enticing.

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?


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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

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