By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Another prestigious card packed full of stakes races at Belmont Park on Saturday, when a Met Mile clash between McKinzie, Code Of Honor and Vekoma provides the highlight among five Graded events – all shown live in Britain on Sky Sports Racing.
McKinzie (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) shoulders top weight in the Metropolitan Handicap (10.47 BST) in which the popular five-year-old bids to go one better than 2019, when he was beaten three-quarters of a length into second behind sprint star Mitole.
After a dismal effort in the Saudi Cup, four-time G1 scorer McKinzie returned to domestic action with a comfortable victory in G2 company at his home track Santa Anita.
Lying in wait for the west coast star in the $500,000 contest is Code Of Honor (Shug McGaughey/John Velazquez), whose CV features victories in both the Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup. A recent G3 victory was his third win at Belmont Park.
Vekoma (George Weaver/Javier Castellano) comes in off a runaway victory in the Carter Handicap, rescheduled to Belmont Park four weeks ago.
Saturday’s star-studded card also features a rematch between last year’s Belmont Stakes 1-2-3 led by Sir Winston (Mark Casse/Joel Rosario) in the G2 Suburban (11.51pm BST) plus a field of leading US turfers in the G1 Manhattan (11.20pm BST).
Shall we talk about it?
Code Of Honor
“He just grew up physically in his body and his mind – he’s gotten more aggressive and he’s caught onto what it’s all about now. He was still figuring things out last year, especially earlier in the year. Everything he’s done this year has been good. He acts like he’s ready to run.”
Shug McGaughey (trainer)
“Her last race was disappointing, but we took her out of her element; there was no speed in the race and we tried to keep her closer and that was to her demise. She didn’t get really good until last summer and her best races are on hard ground. We’re just trying to find her top form and I believe it has to do with a harder turf course. She won’t get it this weekend at Belmont, but she also likes the sharper turns at Saratoga and Santa Anita because she has a quick turn of foot when you ask her to go.”
Mark Casse (trainer)
“His comeback race was just perfect. We just need to draw well and find some racing luck and good weather. If he brings his ‘A’ game that’s what we’re looking for. He’s doing really well. He breezed well, we’re happy with it.”
Bob Baffert (trainer)
“He caught a wet track he didn’t really care for [in the Carter], although that’s no excuse. He was clearly second best to Vekoma on any type of track that day. I think on a dry track, going a mile – which is what the horse wants to do – we might as well take a shot.”
Chad Brown (trainer)
“I like the way he’s coming into this race and he’s run well in this race twice before, so with him, it’s all about getting the right trip. We feel pretty confident he should do pretty well. I think the Tiller was a good race for him being off a few months leading up to it and he came back sharper. This one coming up could be setting up quite nice for him.”
Tom Albertrani (trainer)
“It [comeback race] was a lot to ask of him. There was no speed in the race and the sloppy track probably didn’t help us either. He got a little tired, but he showed gameness to even run second. I think he got a lot out of it – my biggest concern is that he got too much out of it! He came back and worked well. He’s a happy horse and he loves Belmont.”
Mark Casse (trainer)
“I was happy with the way he won that open allowance and I just felt we were prepared to roll the dice a little bit and see how he fits with this spot here in a G1. The mile and three-eights is pretty appealing.”
Brian Lynch (trainer)
“Ideally I’d have liked to have six weeks between races instead of four but the horse is feeling fine, he’s happy, eating well, moving well. We’re well aware of the bounce theory, but the horse seems to be doing well. We want to give him a shot.”
George Weaver (trainer)
“It’s nice to see him have his coming out party this year. The Met Mile came up a bear of a race, so it’s going to be tough. There’s less options for him as there are just about every horse in American right now but he’s so deadly on the front end that it’ll be interesting to see what he can do going one turn.”
Liz Crow (racing manager to owners, Ten Strike Stable)
• Visit the New York Racing Association’s Belmont Park website