So it’s Independence Day, not Memorial Day, but it does a racing soul good to see the Met Mile once again as the lynchpin on a holiday racing program in New York.
When I saw an overnight, I was initially disappointed that only eight horses were entered. Surely, the prestige and stud value for potential winners should rate a limit field.
Then I looked closer. Half of the eight runners are Grade 1 winners; two have won graded stakes, and two others are on the make. No wonder racing Twitter has been on tilt–but in a good way.
Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the field from the rail out:
1–NETWORK EFFECT (8-1): After winning a Florida-bred stakes, he finished second to Vekoma in the G1 Carter, although a zip code farther back. He’s won a one-turn mile, goes for Team Chad/Irad, but this is too much horse race for this young man.
2-VEKOMA (5-2): Transition from three-year-old to four and first start since finishing 13th in the Derby? No problem. The Blue Grass winner returned with a vengeance, taking an overnight stakes with such authority that George Weaver, in the midst of a career year, opted for the G1 Carter off an eye-popping 7-1/4 length romp in 1:21 flat. Will four weeks rest be enough rest off such a huge effort? It’s why the run races.
3-McKINZIE (2-1) The early line favorite arguably was best in the 2019 Met when beaten 3/4s of a length by Sprint champion and Horse of the Year finalist Mitole following a rough trip in which he was trapped inside and among rivals, shaking clear much too late. Multi-Grade 1 winner has won half his 16 starts with six exacta finishes. The one-turn mile hits him squarely between the eyes.
4-HOG CREEK HUSTLE (30-1) One of four Grade 1 winners, albeit the 7-furlong Woody Stephens which fits his sprinting profile. But he’s making his third start off a layup, comes into this off graduating distances, including a wide, too-late rally placing in a loaded NX3 optional claimer at Churchill in which the third finisher came back to win.
5-CODE OF HONOR (3-1): Comes in off a measured, better-than-looks score G3 Westchester score which gave the impression of a perfect prep for something bigger and better; like this. The time was respectable, there was plenty left in the tank, and his only official loss at Belmont in four tries was a runnerup finish in the 2018 G1 Champagne. Has worked thrice for Shug since his season’s debut, including a bullet five furlongs, and is well posted with Johnny.
6-ENDORSED (10-1): Very likely to be the wise-guy horse in this match given a forced premature move when second in the Westchester, holding extremely well but ultimately beaten by Code of Honor. Has an excellent turn of foot, a wide draw helps his cause, as does an additional three pound weight pull from ‘Code’ and getting eight from the favorite, 125 vs. 117. Anticipating different tactics from Joel here.
7-MR FREEZE (8-1): Probably doesn’t get the overall respect he deserves, having won two graded stakes and placing in six consecutive graded events since Churchill’s Ack Ack last September. Five year old Dale Romans trainee reunites with winning rider Manny Franco, owns tactical speed, is suited by dynamics, a wide draw, the trip [(3) 2-1-0] and gets five pounds from the highweighted favorite.
8-WARRIOR’S CHARGE (12-1): Late developer improved late in his three year old year and this year was the game winner of the G3 Razorback prior to a game placing to By My Standards in the G2 Oaklawn Handicap. Fast and game, his PPs indicate he very likely prefers two turns to one.