Runhappy Met Mile 2020 preview

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Longtime fans of Thoroughbred racing no doubt have fond memories of spending their Memorial Day watching horses like Ghostzapper, Holy Bull, Forego, Arts and Letters, Buckpasser, and Kelso shine in the Metropolitan Handicap. After spending the last six years on the Belmont Stakes day program, the COVID-19 pandemic and revised racing schedules have led to the Met Mile returning to a holiday program. On Saturday, the Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap will top a great card at Belmont Park with five graded stakes and once again bring several of the nation’s best horses together for a one-mile showdown. Fans may not be able to attend the races at Belmont Park, but the Met Mile will be must-see TV.

Saturday’s 127th Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap will be televised live during a broadcast on NBC, running from 5 to 6 p.m. ET. Coverage is also available to stream live on NBCSports.com and on the NBC Sports app.

RUNHAPPY METROPOLITAN HANDICAP

Racetrack: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.

Date: July 4

Purse: $500,000

Distance: 1 mile

Race: 9

Post Time: 5:47 p.m. ET

Notable winners: Ghostzapper (2005), Holy Bull (1994), Fit to Fight (1984), Conquistador Cielo (1982), Forego (1976-77), Arts and Letters (1969), Buckpasser (1967), Carry Back (1962), Kelso (1961), Native Dancer (1954) and Tom Fool (1953)

First held: 1891

The field:

1. Network EffectHe was second to Vekoma last time out in the Carter Handicap, but was 7 ¼ lengths behind his fellow Met Mile starter. A wet track may have worked against him and being trained by Chad Brown is a plus, but the last time he ran in a race like this, which was last year’s Cigar Mile, he was eighth.

JOCKEY: Irad Ortiz Jr.  TRAINER: Chad Brown

 

2. Vekoma: We just mentioned his victory in the Grade 1 Carter, which was ultra-impressive. He’s returning off four weeks’ rest, but it will be his third race after a layoff off nearly 11 months. The third time is often the charm in situations like that, and given the keen speed he possesses he should be forwardly placed and figures to be in a nice spot turning for home. Whether he can fend off some serious late challenges is the key question, but he belongs in the trifecta.

JOCKEY: Javier Castellano TRAINER: George Weaver

 

3. McKinzieWhen Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert puts one of his horses on a plane, you can rest assured that runner is well-meant. McKinzie had a rough trip in last year’s Met Mile and might have been best when he finished second. A repeat of that performance should be enough to gain some revenge this year, but he may not be at the top of his game and could wind up in the place spot once again.

JOCKEY: Mike Smith TRAINER: Bob Baffert

 

4. Hog Creek HustleIt’s been more than a year since his last victory in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens at Belmont Park. He has some late kick and could sneak into the superfecta but it’s hard to imagine him upsetting a field this good.

JOCKEY: Jose Ortiz TRAINER: Vickie Foley

 

5. Code of HonorThe two wins on his resume that stand out are the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 1 ¼ miles, but don’t be fooled by that. He was an easy winner of the Dwyer Stakes and was second at two in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, both at a mile at Belmont Park. He had a highly beneficial 2020 debut while winning the Westchester for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey earlier in the meet and seems poised for a winning effort here.

JOCKEY: John Velazquez TRAINER: Shug McGaughey

 

6. Endorsed: He made Code of Honor work hard in the Westchester, putting up a good fight before losing by a half-length. His best races in stakes have been at distances more than a mile and these conditions, and the level of the competition, may not suit him.

JOCKEY: Joel Rosario  TRAINER: Bill Mott

 

7. Mr Freeze: He was razor sharp this winter in Florida, finishing second in the Pegasus World Cup and winning the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Mile decisively, but then he settled for third in the Oaklawn Handicap. He has not been worse than third in his last seven starts and his last two wins were in one-turn mile stakes, yet he seems a notch below the top choices.

JOCKEY: Manny Franco  TRAINER: Dale Romans

 

8. Warrior’s Charge: He seems to have the most early speed and may not get pressed all that hard in a field that lacks another speedster with his early zip. He has been getting better recently, and from the outside post he has the kind of determination that makes him a major threat to wind up in the exotics.

JOCKEY: Florent Geroux  TRAINER: Brad Cox

THE PICK: Code of Honor

LIVE LONGSHOT: Warrior’s Charge

SUPERFECTA: 5-3-2-8

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series on NBC Sports rolls on with the Met Mile on July 4 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.