Traditionally a Memorial Day race, the Met Mile exploded in size and stature by moving to Belmont Stakes Day as indicated by its rich field of competitors, ultimately sporting 4 Grade 1 winners in its 12-horse field which is probably the deepest of any race on the undercard. With favorites winning about 25% of the time in this race and the heavy favorite Palace Malice buried on the rail, this just became a very good betting race.
1 – PALACE MALICE – By numbers and form alone, last year’s Belmont winner is the deserving favorite of the field. But, with trainer Todd Pletcher and handicappers wincing at his drawing of the rail post in such a large field, there’s some cause for concern as this horse will have to break well and find a good stalking spot without getting crowded in. Tit for tat, he’s the best horse who may lose.
2 – VYJACK – Not a lot to say for this race as Vyjack moves up into pretty steep company as a horse who made his pay days mainly sprinting and as a two-year-old. Too much too soon, and he’s shown little evidence he can clear the hurdle.
3 – SCARLY CHARLY – Not a whole lot to write home about the 110 lb lightweight of the field who gets transferred to top New York trainer Michael Hushion. He was beaten a half-length at this distance back in December but hasn’t beaten anything notable.
4 – GOLDENCENTS – The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (I) champ ships out to Belmont to make his 2014 debut, giving him one of the longest layoffs of the field after finishing 7th in the Cigar Mile in November. He is 2-for-4 at the mile distance, with both of those wins coming at Santa Anita. His layoff schedule is also suspect, as both times he came off a long layoff he did not win, and the best one was a 2nd on his favorite track. Very classy horse who may need to get some wind back in his lungs before he can expect to win such a steep race.
5 – MORENO – Love this horse, and he goes blinkers off after a really great run in the Pimlico Special (III) where he put up some impressive numbers along with his characteristic bulldog tenacity. He loves Belmont as he is 2-for-2 on the track including a win there at this mile distance. Lightly weighted considering his talent going further than a mile, he could be ignored by others and could spring loose.
6 – CENTRAL BANKER – I tend to bank on Speightstown progeny, and this one won last time out at 10-1 odds in a G2 sprint at Churchill Downs. Likely to move late, he is untested at the mile distance but has some grit late in the action and keeps Corey Nakatani who helped him win his last race. Very competitive should there be a hot pace.
7 – CAPO BASTONE - At his peak, the Street Boss colt was a very overwhelming closer in sprints as indicated by his G1 King’s Bishop win last summer. He came off a layoff to a couple of bad races, then was too late and wide last out in the G2 Churchill Downs to make up much. He should improve 2nd off the layoff but by how much is anyone’s guess.
8 – DECLAN’S WARRIOR – Actually kind of an interesting horse. He has 2 wins and 2 places in 4 Belmont starts, has won at this distance, and is 9: 4-3-0 on a fast track. The reason is muddled for his 30-1 morning line odds, as he was eased in the King’s Bishop last summer then returned to yield late in a March Gulfstream allowance, then improved but was no match for Palace Malice last out in the Westchester (III) on a “good” surface—not fast how he likes it. With a hot pace, he could be a threat if he’s still in good form.
9 – NORMANDY INVASION – Another one I’ve doted on for quite some time, the Tapit colt comes off a 2-month layoff following a 4 ¾-length loss to Palace Malice in the New Orleans Handicap (II) while going wide. Cutting back, he is perhaps a larger threat at just 8 furlongs with some top numbers and is 2-for-2 at this distance. Getting 7 pounds from Malice doesn’t hurt either.
10 – CLEARLY NOW – Rarely out of the top 3, the Arch colt has had 2 muddled tries at 8 furlongs, one of which involved disqualification and the other clipping heels with another horse. He lost a sprint by less than 2 lengths last out and looks to close on in again.
11 – BROADWAY EMPIRE – A winner at the distance and a shipper, the Empire Maker colt boasts a 50% win percentage but totes some class questions as he mainly has been romping over lower-class foes and yielded late while others were galloping out on the lead in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (I).
12 – ROMANSH – A New York staple with many past stakes wins coming at NYRA, the Bernardini colt moves up from his regular ungraded and G3 races while trying 8 furlongs for the first time after racing mainly at 9 furlongs. He also comes off a steep 2-month layoff, but at this rate who hasn’t…
13 – SHAKIN IT UP – Closing up the shipper category is the Midnight Lute son and G1 winner of last year’s Malibu Stakes (I) trying the mile distance for the first time. Shakin showed off his shipping abilities last out in the Churchill Downs (II), missing by a mere head to Central Banker and should be okay if not better coming off a short(ish) layoff and Rosie in the irons (she won with another ‘Lute, Midnight Lucky, by daylight at Churchill).
Top 3 Picks:
1) Normandy Invasion
2) Shakin It Up
Pick 4: Normandy Invasion, Shakin It Up, Moreno, Palace Malice. Spread with Central Banker, Declan’s Warrior.
Early pace/off-the-pace types tend to rule this race, although I am not anticipating an overly hot pace and I aim to try to beat Palace Malice stuck down on the inside. Moreno could come off straight to the lead easily and could put up an interesting fight when the going gets tough, as he is known to keep a marginally solid pace out on the lead. He will face pressure, and despite the layoff, Normandy Invasion has a lot of potential to turn in another G1 win for Tapit as a horse who likes this distance and could roll over the rest in his comfort zone. Shakin It Up could be the key late mover as he ships in 2nd-off-the-layoff after missing by just a head.