Edited NYRA Staff Release – The long anticipated showdown between two of the nation’s fastest racehorses, Flightline and Speaker’s Corner, will take place in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap going a one-turn mile for 3-year-olds and upward at Belmont Park.
The Metropolitan Handicap is a “Win And You’re In” qualifier, offering an automatic entry into the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on November 5 at Keeneland Race Course.
Regarded as a “stallion-making race” due to its long history of producing winners who go on to highly productive stud careers, the Met Mile has been won by recent Grade 1-producing sires Honor Code , Palace Malice , and Shackleford . Recent Eclipse champion-producing winners of the Met Mile include Quality Road , Divine Park , Ghostzapper , Langfuhr , Honour and Glory , and Holy Bull . Influential sires from decades past also have a Met Mile win on their resumes, including Native Dancer , Sword Dancer , and Buckpasser  – whose sire Tom Fool also won the Met Mile in 1953.
A cumulative nine triple digit Beyer Speed Figures appear on the form of Flightline and Speaker’s Corner, with both horses entering the Met Mile off open-lengths triumphs going one turn.
Flightline has displayed brilliance with an unbeaten record in three lifetime starts by a combined 37 1/2 lengths while garnering a triple digit Beyer each time. A 13 1/4-length maiden coup last April at Santa Anita had racing fans eager to see what else the son of Tapit had in store, but he did not return to action until September at the California oval, defeating winners under a hand ride by Flavien Prat.
In his first start at stakes level, Flightline delivered a late Christmas present to his connections with an effortless 11 1/2-length triumph in the Grade 1 Malibu on December 26 at Santa Anita. The in-hand score registered a 118 Beyer, the largest recorded figure by a horse last year.
Flightline will be making his first start past seven-furlongs but trainer John Sadler said added ground will benefit.
“I always thought he would be better as he goes further,” Sadler said. “He has a high cruising speed and when you look at some horses that have fast time, you wonder how that will project out. But if you watch his races, it projects out quite well. Since it’s a longer than usual gap between races, we’ve made sure that he has a lot of good training in him. When you see a steady series of good works it’s to make sure he’s ready to go.”
Sadler said Flightline doesn’t necessarily need the lead.
“We’ve been working hard with getting him to relax,” Sadler said. “He doesn’t have to have the front, but he’s naturally gifted with speed. He’s a runner and he’s a stone cold athlete. Ever since we’ve had him, he’s looked like the big horse.”
Flightline is owned by the partnership of Hronis Racing, Siena Farm, Summer Wind Equine, West Point Thoroughbreds and Woodford Racing.
Prat retains the mount aboard Flightline, who breaks from post 1.
While Flightline makes his trek to the east coast, Belmont-based Speaker’s Corner will attempt to defend his territory for Hall of Famer Bill Mott.
“As far as I’m concerned, the Met Mile is a heavyweight championship type bout,” Mott said. “It should be a good race. If our horse shows up and the other horse shows up, it should be interesting.”
Speaker’s Corner, a 4-year-old son of Street Sense, enters off a victory in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 9 at Aqueduct where he produced a 114 Beyer – the highest speed figure recorded this year. Attempting to become the 13th horse to sweep the Carter-Met Mile double in the same year, Speaker’s Corner is unbeaten at a one-turn mile boasting a pair of graded stakes wins at Gulfstream Park going the distance in the Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper and Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile.
Mott said Speaker’s Corner, who has been first at the half-mile call in each of his last five starts, won’t necessarily concede the lead to Flightline.
“I don’t know if anybody is going to beat him [Flightline] if you give him a six-length lead,” Mott said.
Speaker’s Corner has shown ability to carry his speed further, staying on strong to the wire in a narrow half-length loss to Miles D in the nine-furlong Discovery in November at the Big A. Mott said he is hopeful that stamina can benefit Speaker’s Corner late in the lane on Saturday.
“We didn’t succeed at a mile and an eighth, but we’ve been successful at a mile. I think our horse gets more than a mile, but he was only beaten a head or a neck going a mile and an eighth by a good horse,” Mott said.
Godolphin, who owns Speaker’s Corner, pursues a second win in the Met Mile after scoring a memorably emphatic victory in 2016 with Frosted.
Breaking from post 2, Speaker’s Corner will be ridden by regular pilot Junior Alvarado.
Trainer Wayne Catalano will send up a formidable contender in Aloha West, the winner of last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners-owned 5-year-old Hard Spun dark bay was fifth behind Jackie’s Warrior in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs last out on Kentucky Derby day.
A five-time winner of ten starts, Aloha West won twice at Saratoga last summer at allowance optional claiming level. After a six-furlong victory last August at the Spa against non-winners of two, he garnered more Saratoga prosperity in the next condition up going seven furlongs.
Jose Ortiz will ride from post 3.
Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher will seek his third Met Mile triumph when saddling Wertheimer and Frere’s Happy Saver. The 5-year-old Super Saver chestnut has never finished worse than third in nine lifetime starts, including a victory in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2020, where he defeated the following year’s Dubai World Cup winner Mystic Guide and millionaire Tacitus.
Happy Saver arrives off his 2022 debut, when finishing second in the Grade 2 Alysheba at Churchill Downs to Olympiad. Boasting a 9-5-3-1 record, Happy Saver has banked $803,300 in lifetime earnings.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride from post 4.
Completing the field is Uriah St. Lewis-owned and trained Informative, a 5-year-old dark bay son of Bodemeister. Last June, Informative won the Grade 3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park in a 79-1 upset. St. Lewis is no stranger to springing major upsets at graded stakes level on the NYRA circuit, with the most notable being a triumph with Discreet Lover in the 2018 Jockey Club Gold Cup [Grade 1] at Belmont Park.
Dexter Haddock has the call from post 5.
The Met Mile is slated as Race 9 on Saturday’s 13-race card which features a first post of 11:20 a.m. Eastern.
National television coverage of Belmont Stakes Day will begin on FS2, where America’s Day at the Races will air from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. before coverage shifts to CNBC from 3 to 5 p.m. and NBC from 5 to 7p.m. America’s Day at the Races will then return to FS2 from 7:15 to 8:30 p.m. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.