“[The Met Mile] has quality horses, and I’m glad to be part of it,” said Romans, who will send out Shackleford in the Memorial Day feature. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a champion in this race.”
The one-mile Metropolitan Handicap will be run as race 10 on the 11-race holiday card, which also features the Grade 1, $300,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies, the Grade 2 $200,000 Sands Point for 3-year-old turf fillies, and the Grade 1, $400,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap for fillies and mares. Together, they comprise a $500,000 Guaranteed All Graded Stakes Pick 4, beginning with the Sands Point in race 7. MSG+ will show the Met Mile and the Acorn live during a telecast that runs from 5-6 p.m
The Met Mile will be the second start of 2012 for To Honor and Serve, who prepped for the race with a 5 ¼-length victory over Monday’s course and distance in the Grade 3 Westchester on April 27.
“He’s had two good works [since the Westchester], and he seems to be looking good,” said Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who trains To Honor and Serve for Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation. “It looks like it’s a good race coming up. Nice horses here, without a doubt.”
The five-time graded stakes winner carries a two-race winning streak into Saturday’s race, having won the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap by 1 ¾ lengths in November. The homebred has won four of his last five starts, including a Saratoga optional claimer and the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby prior to his seventh in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic in November.
To Honor and Serve, made the 3-1 co-second choice on the morning line and assigned 120 pounds, will leave from the rail with Jose Lezcano aboard.
Lining up to face To Honor and Serve are the top three finishers from the Grade 1, seven-furlong Carter Handicap on April 7 at Aqueduct Racetrack: Jackson Bend, Caleb’s Posse, and Shackleford.
In the Carter, Jackson Bend split horses nearing the three-eighths to challenge pacesetter Shackleford, took over in upper stretch, and held off Caleb’s Posse’s furious stretch run to prevail by a nose. Shackleford finished 1 ½ lengths behind in third.
The Carter was the second Grade 1 win for Robert LaPenta’s Jackson Bend, who took the 2011 Forego at Saratoga Race Course. Between the Forego and the Carter he was second in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap at Belmont, third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs, and first and third, respectively, in a pair of starts at Gulfstream Park, the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope and in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap.
Jackson Bend is the 121-pound co-highweight for the Met Mile, which his Hall of Fame trainer, Nick Zito, sees as both a badge of honor and a challenge to overcome.
“We’re proud of him, and everyone knows what he has done,” said Zito. “The weight is a pretty big assignment. He’s a small horse; it’s not like he’s the Incredible Hulk. He’s the smallest horse in the field, but you can’t measure the size of his heart, and that’s what matters. Giving weight to To Honor and Serve shows you the deal. Jackson Bend has a great reputation, and hopefully he runs his usual race.”
Corey Nakatani will ride Jackson Bend, 3-1 on the morning line, from the outside in the field of six.
The 8-5 morning-line favorite for the Met Mile is McNeill Stables and Cheyenne Stables’ Caleb’s Posse, who is looking to go one better after finishing a close second in both the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap at six furlongs and the Carter at Aqueduct. In 2011, the well-traveled son of Posse won five of 10 starts, including the Grade 1 Foxwoods King’s Bishop at Saratoga over Uncle Mo and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile over Shackleford.
Caleb’s Posse is a deep closer, and trainer Donnie Von Hemel said the nebulous pace scenario created by the Met Mile’s smaller field is a “legitimate concern.”
‘There’s nothing you can do about it,” said Von Hemel. “He has a good rider [Rajiv Maragh], who hopefully can take advantage of whatever happens during the race.”
“You can make a case for everybody in the race,” added Von Hemel. “It’s very competitive. It’s a heck of a race.”
Caleb’s Posse will depart from post 3 under 121 pounds, including Maragh.