This year's Belmont Stakes, basically a two-horse race, is hardly worth the exorbitant price of admission. However, the Met Mile will be one for the ages with freaky Mitole, streaking Coal Front and Bob Baffert's Horse of the Year hopeful McKinzie heading the field. Two-time Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow and Belmont horse for course Firenze Fire are all eligible to spring a major upset. It will be worth negotiating through the PETA picketeers, who will be out in force with things taking another turn for the worst out West. Grandstanding Sen. Diane Feinstein is calling for another shutdown at Santa Anita.

By Tom Jicha

This is the year for which the Belmont Stakes Festival was created and the Met Mile was moved from Memorial Day.

There’s no Triple Crown candidate. The nominal main event, the Belmont Stakes, is as lackluster as it has been in memory. It’s essentially a two-horse race, Preakness champion War of Will and Tacitus, kissed up to third in the star-crossed Kentucky Derby.

We’ll get into the third jewel of the tarnished Triple Crown in more detail next week. I’ll dive as deep as I can into the expected eight- or nine-horse field. At this point it’s unfathomable to me that one of the two big horses won’t be my selection to wind up draped in carnations.
However, the Met Mile, headed by Mitole, Coal Front and McKinzie, is worthy of the 60,000 or so who will be at Belmont on June 8. In days of old, a crowd this size would have come out on Memorial Day to witness a showdown that harkens back to the days of Buckpasser, Damascus and Dr. Fager.

Mitole comes into the coveted stakes looking like a potential super freak. He’s won six straight, including the seven furlong Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day. This was his first Grade 1 and first score at more than six furlongs.His breeding, Eskendereya out of an Indian Charlie mare, suggests the eighth furlong won’t be a problem. The way he finished the Churchill Downs lends further credence to this

Coal Front also has presented himself as special since returning from a 14-month layoff. He needed one start to get into gear but has reeled off three straight since, capped by a demolishment of the best the world could offer in the Godolphin Mile. Coming out of Todd Pletcher’s barn, he’ll also have home court advantage.

McKinzie hasn’t been as dominant in his three starts this year but his re-rallying victory on Oaks Day in the Alysheba was as eye-catching as any two-turn dirt horse has run this year. Turning back won’t be a problem. Sandwiched around head-bobbing seconds in the San Pasqual and Big Cap, he ran away to an off-the-pace daylight win in the seven furlong Malibu.

There’s also the Baffert factor. Each of the past two years on Belmont Day, Bullet Bob has won every stakes in which he had an entrant. McKinzie will be his sole representative in the Met Mile.

For international intrigue, Thunder Snow, two-time winner of the Dubai World Cup, is shipping across the world to take a shot at one of America’s most prestigious titles. Unlike many from the Middle East, Thunder Snow is no slouch stateside. He was second in last fall’s Jockey Club Gold Cup and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Firenze Fire, unbeaten at Belmont, looks to be in super tough but given his record over Big Sandy and Jason Servis magic, he’s a tough toss.

With nothing much going on out West until Del Mar, Doug O’Neill said he intends to ship in Pavel, who is a Grade 1 winner.

The sad reality is, as loaded as this year’s renewal of the Met Mile is, it will be lucky to get more than a paragraph or two in the non-racing media as Belmont Stakes recaps monopolize the ink and video. This is why I’ll never stop campaigning for the Met Mile to be returned to Memorial Day.

Feinstein mounts soapbox

Diane Feinstein knows less about racing than she does about Chinese spying. While on the Senate Intelligence Committee she unknowingly had a Chinese spy working as her chauffeur for more than 20 years.

But Feinstein does recognize how to generate a headline. In the wake of three more horse deaths during the past week, DiFi renewed her call for a moratorium on racing at Santa Anita until there are definitive answers as to why horses keep dying. That shouldn’t take too long.

Feinstein, who first called for the shutting down of Santa Anita on April 2, got up on her soapbox again Monday. “I once again call for an immediate moratorium on racing at Santa Anita. We need a thorough investigation of practices and conditions at tracks before any more races are held.”

This despite the fact that since new safety protocols were instituted at Santa Anita, there had not been a fatality in 46 days.

If racing at Santa Anita is forced into a sabbatical horses, trainers and jockeys would flee California, many never to return. Given the existing shortage of horses and the loopy history of California law-making, it would be a challenge to ever restore the Great Race Place to its former status.

That Feinstein would mount her campaign is another example of her ignorance toward racing. Race tracks are not like the federal government. You can’t close down indefinitely, then come back as if nothing had ever happened.

Thousands of jobs would disappear with the horses. Obviously Feinstein has zero understanding of this

I don’t hate to say I told you so. This is a sneak preview of what could happen if the federal government is invited to oversee racing in any meaningful way.

The day after Feinstein did her grandstanding, PETA “voice of moderation” Kathy Guillermo weighed in. “While national attention has been focused on racing deaths at Santa Anita, horses continue to die at tracks across the country. In New York alone…15 thoroughbreds have died while racing or training so far this year and 148 died in the last two years. Yet neither New York nor any other state has enacted the rules that The Stronach Group and the California Horse Racing Board have put in place and continue to strengthen.”

Without equivocation the fox invited into the henhouse showed her true colors. “PETA is calling for the suspension of racing nationwide until every jurisdiction matches or surpasses what California has done.”

Peta is obviously an irony free zone.

(c) Tom Jicha,, May 30, 2019, All Rights Reserved