By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Vekoma (George Weaver/Javier Castellano) confirmed himself as a serious player among America’s older-horse ranks with a gutsy wire-to-wire effort in a highly competitive Met Mile as he completed back-to-back victories in G1 company.
Officially known as the Metropolitan Handicap, the $500,000 contest was the highlight of another stakes-laden card behind closed doors at Belmont Park.
With west-coast visitor McKinzie sent off a narrow favourite, Vekoma was 9-5 second best after his runaway success a month earlier in the G1 Carter Handicap over 7f.
After breaking alertly, the son of Candy Ride was surprisingly sent to to lead by Javier Castellano and proceeded to make all before holding Network Effect by a length and quarter with last year’s Travers Stakes winner Code Of Honor in third. McKinzie was only fifth, albeit just a couple of lengths behind the winner, who stopped the clock at 1m32.88s.
“Sometimes you handicap the race and then you have to throw it out when you break out of the gate,” explained Castellano. “I made a decision and used my best judgement and I think it paid off today.
“They came after me at the three-eighths pole, but he’s such a great horse and such an honest horse. The further he went the stronger he got.”
Further G1 targets beckon, with Trainer George Weaver is considering the Whitney over another furlong at Saratoga on August 1 – or perhaps the Forego over a furlong less later in the meet.
“The most likely scenario is that he would come back in a race like the Forego,” said Weaver. “We want to plot a campaign to get us to the Breeders’ Cup, so we’ll take a look at the calendar and go from there.”
Elsewhere on the card, with blinkers applied Tacitus (Bill Mott/John Velazquez) ended a losing streak dating back seven races to April 2019 in style, slamming his rivals by 8¾ lengths in the G2 Suburban. Last of six was Sir Winston, who beat Tacitus by a length in last year’s Belmont Stakes.
Irad Ortiz threaded the needed for a neck victory on Instilled Regard (Chad Brown) over stable companion Rockemperor in the G1 Manhattan, while 2-5 favourite Uncle Chuck (Bob Baffert/Luiz Saez) did what was expected with a comfortable four-length success from three rivals in the Los Alamitos Derby.
The son of Uncle Mo was taking his career record to two-from-two after a seven-length maiden win on debut at Santa Anita. The postponement of this year’s Kentucky Derby until September 5 could work in his favour – he is only 8-1 with Coral for America’s greatest race.
“We’re just learning more and more about Uncle Chuck,” said Bob Baffert. “He’s still pretty green, but he’s got gears.
“The colt was full of himself when he came back. It’s exciting. He’s learning quickly and he has brilliance. I was impressed.
“I think we just saw something pretty special and he’s been special from day one. He’s bred to be any kind.’’
• As part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, the Met Mile is a ‘win and you’re in’ race offering a fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
• Find out more about Belmont Park at the NYRA website