Memorial Day brings about one of the best races of the year, the Metropolitan Handicap, and this year’s rendition is nothing short of spectacular. Here’s my analysis of the four graded stakes races. Complete analysis for the full card can be found here.
Race 7, The GII Sands Point
1. SOMALI LEMONADE 2. REGALO MIA 3. BETTER LUCKY
#3 SOMALI LEMONADE was a precocious 2YO who took her first couple of starts, which included a win over the Widener turf here at Belmont. She ended 2011 with a defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and trainer Michael Matz decided to give her plenty of time off to start 2012. Her comeback race was hardly awe inspiring, but she did have to work against a moderate pace that afternoon. With that race under her, she should take a major step forward today and looks to be strictly the one to beat. #5 REGALO MIA was 3rd just behind Somali Lemonade in the Appalachian at Keeneland, but she did travel 42 more feet than that rival. She also traveled 57 more feet than the wire-to-wire winner, Dayatthespa, so you can rest assured that she proved she’s a quality filly. Her three straight defeats make you question her killer instinct, as she’ll have to put forth a career best effort to win this thing. #1 BETTER LUCKY is switching to turf and stretching out, which leads you to believe she’ll be the one to catch. Her sire, Ghostzapper, has had numerous runners excel on turf, as his progeny hit at a 15% clip on the lawn. Her talented dam has produced four prior foals, who are a combined 0-13 on the weeds. There are mixed signals, but you know she’ll be tough if able to get the lead.
Race 8, The GI Ogden Phipps Handicap
1. IT’S TRICKY 2. SHE’S ALL IN 3. AWESOME MARIA
#4 IT’S TRICKY won her first Grade I race the last time she went one turn at Belmont Park. That win came in the Acorn last year on Belmont day, and she has since added another Grade I and two Grade II wins this year. The edge that this daughter of Mineshaft possesses over #2 AWESOME MARIA is that she can rate a bit farther off the pace. There are no fewer than three horses who will show early speed in here, which would tend to favor a horse who can lay back and make one run. #3 SHE’S ALL IN freaked when victorious last time out at Hawthorne in the Sixty Sails. After a ho-hum winter at Oaklawn, she was dismissed at 5-1 in the Sixty Sails before running away late to win by nearly nine lengths. She is the only legitimate closer in this field, and the fact that trainer Donnie Von Hemel is willing to run her here says a great deal about her readiness. The aforementioned Awesome Maria is looking for her 2nd straight win in this race and has won six in a row. She capitalized on two soft trips over her favorite track in South Florida, so how she’ll handle a bit more adversity today is a major question.
Race 9, The GI Acorn
1. AUBBY K 2. ON FIRE BABY 3. CONTESTED
#6 AUBBY K is clearly not he soundest of horses, but she has been awfully impressive in each of her 3 career starts. In fact, her effort in defeat last fall at Churchill in the Pocahontas was a very strong performance. Stretching out 5/16ths of a mile in just her 2nd career start, she battled gamely before putting away the other speedsters in upper stretch. She was caught late but showed tremendous tenacity to round out the superfecta. While the pace should be legitimate in here, she has drawn perfectly on the outside. That will enable jockey Edgar Prado to let her break for position before moving when ready. #3 ON FIRE BABY won the aforementioned Pocahontas at Churchill in her last start around one turn. She is looking for redemption after finishing a distant fifth in the Kentucky Oaks last time out. Her only excuse for the poor Oaks showing could be that she raced on a dead rail most of the way, which will wreck even the best horses’ chances. The likelihood of a strong pace in here will enable her to rate and make one run under regular rider Joe Johnson. #1 CONTESTED is a deserving favorite in this spot, as she enters off a handy score in the Eight Belles at Churchill Downs. Trainer Bob Baffert is just 1 for his last 20 in Grade I races in New York, and this daughter of Ghostzapper has drawn a difficult inside post position. That’s enough for you to try to beat her at what figures to be a very short price.
Race 10, The GI Metropolitan Handicap
1. CALEB’S POSSE 2. TO HONOR AND SERVE 3. JACKSON BEND
#3 CALEB’S POSSE is strictly the one to beat in here, as he has been the model of consistency for the better part of the last 9 months. His record around one turn going back to August 1 at the Spa is 5:3-1-1. His two defeats this year at Aqueduct were both spectacular performances, as he made huge late moves before coming up just short. While the pace he rallied into in the Tom Fool was extremely fast, they crawled on the front end in the Carter. That didn’t stop this colt from flying late, only to come up a nose short of his 3rd Grade I win. The pace in here figures to be strong, and he seems like a horse who will be at his absolute best going a one-turn mile. #1 TO HONOR AND SERVE is a hunch play on Memorial Day, and he rates a pretty long look for many other reasons. A colt with a bundle of talent, he had been somewhat enigmatic for much of 2011. Trainer Bill Mott had him at his best for the Cigar Mile, as he won handily as the 1-1 favorite. His 2012 campaign began with a huge win in the Westchester, so he’ll look to take a step forward this afternoon. The rail draw is not ideal, as he’ll have to show good speed right from the outset today. Whether he can take heat from the start and survive is a major question, as he has been at his best when able to either control the pace or stalk intently from second. #6 JACKSON BEND rebounded from a poor effort at Gulfstream to win the Carter over the top pick, as he used a decisive move by trainer Corey Nakatani to hold on late. A mile might be just a bit farther than he wants to go, but he is a classy and ultra consistent runner who will have the jump on a horse like Caleb’s Posse.
Best of luck and I’ll see you back here on Wednesday!