Road to the Breeders’ Cup: Focus shifts to Belmont for Met Mile


Since the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the traditional Thoroughbred racing calendar, the upcoming schedule for the July 4 holiday weekend offers both a prep race for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (the Los Alamitos Derby) and a major Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifier in the form of the $500,000, Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap.

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 and on the NBC Sports app.

The Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, traditionally known as the Met Mile, is the highlight of a stacked Saturday card at Belmont Park that also features four other graded stakes. The winner of the Met Mile earns an expenses-paid berth in the $2 million Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile held on Nov. 7 at Keeneland.

Last Saturday, June 27, two horses punched their respective tickets to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic and Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff by winning key preps at Churchill DownsTom’s d’Etat romped in the Stephen Foster Stakes to earn a berth in the Classic, and Midnight Bisou turned in a similarly dominant performance in the Fleur de Lis Stakes to qualify for the Distaff.

The 14 Breeders’ Cup races attract the best Thoroughbreds in the world to compete for $35 million in purse money and awards, and the selection of starters in each race is determined in part by a points system for graded stakes and the selection criteria of a panel of experts. However, there is one way for an owner to bypass the secondary criteria and secure a spot for their horse in a Breeders’ Cup race, and that is by winning a stakes race in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.

The Met Mile has a rich history and retains its status as one of the most prestigious stakes within the Thoroughbred breeding community as a “sire-making” race. Its list of winners contains many Hall of Fame horses, and Met Mile victors have made an impact in several Breeders’ Cup races over the past 33 years – not just in the Las Vegas Dirt Mile, which was first held in 2007. Perhaps the most memorable Met Mile-Breeders’ Cup double occurred during 2004-’05, when Ghostzapper steamrolled the opposition in the ’04 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Lone Star Park and then returned for one final race in the ’05 Met Mile and romped by 6 ½ lengths.

In 2007, Met Mile winner Corinthian took the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Monmouth Park, and the two races have had major crossover effects in recent years. In 2014, defending Dirt Mile winner Goldencents finished a game second to Palace Malice in the Met Mile; he would repeat in the Dirt Mile later that year at Santa Anita Park. Tamarkuz ran in both the 2015 Met Mile (fourth) and the 2016 Met Mile (ninth behind Frosted’s stakes record-setting time), and the Shadwell Stable horse would post an 11.90-1 upset in the 2016 Dirt Mile to close out his career. Perhaps the most exciting edition of the Met Mile this century involved 2011 Dirt Mile winner Caleb’s Posse and runner-up Shackleford, who met for a rematch in the 2012 Met Mile. After setting swift fractions up front under John Velazquez, Shackleford was all out to hold off Caleb’s Posse’s patented late charge by a nose, turning the tables in thrilling fashion.

In 2017, Sharp Azteca would finish second in the Met Mile and the Dirt Mile at Del Mar to Mor Spirit and Battle of Midway, respectively (Mor Spirit finished a disappointing eighth in the Dirt Mile). And last year, lightning-fast Mitole tested his ability at the one-turn mile distance at Belmont Park and won a thrilling Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap over McKinzie and globe-trotting Thunder Snow.

While Mitole received a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile, Steve Asmussen instead pointed him to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita, which he won by 1 ¼ lengths en route to year-end champion sprinter honors. McKinzie, meanwhile, would train on to finish second behind Vino Rosso in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. He is slated to start in Saturday’s Met Mile.

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, and the NBC Sports app. 

Appeals court strikes down federal horseracing rules act

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NEW ORLEANS — Congress unconstitutionally gave too much power to a nonprofit authority it created in 2020 to develop and enforce horseracing rules, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled Friday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, or HISA, is “facially unconstitutional.”

The authority created by the act was meant to bring uniform policies and enforcement to horseracing amid doping scandals and racetrack horse deaths. But the 5th Circuit – in two rulings issued Friday – ruled in favor of opponents of the act in lawsuits brought by horseracing associations and state officials in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia.

The Federal Trade Commission has the ultimate authority to approve or reject HISA regulations, but it can’t modify them. And the authority can reject proposed modifications.

Three 5th Circuit judges agreed with opponents of the act – including the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and similar groups in multiple states – that the setup gave too much power to the nongovernmental authority and too little to the FTC.

“A cardinal constitutional principle is that federal power can be wielded only by the federal government. Private entities may do so only if they are subordinate to an agency,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel that ruled in the Texas case.

The same panel, which also included judges Carolyn Dineen King and Kurt Engelhardt, cited the Texas ruling in a separate order in favor of horseracing interests and regulators challenging HISA in a different case.

The chair of the horseracing authority’s board of directors said it would ask for further court review. Friday’s ruling could be appealed to the full 5th Circuit court of the Supreme Court.

“If today’s ruling were to stand, it would not go into effect until January 10, 2023 at the earliest,” Charles Scheeler said in an email. “We are focused on continuing our critical work to protect the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing, including the launch of HISA’s Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program on January 1, 2023.”

The ruling was criticized by Marty Irby, executive director of the Animal Wellness Action organization. “Over the course of three Congresses, the most brilliant legal minds on Capitol Hill addressed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act’s constitutionality and ultimately decided that the Federal Trade Commission’s limited oversight was sufficient,” Irby said in an email.

Among the subjects covered by the authority’s rules and enforcement were jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders can use it during a race, racetrack accreditation, and the reporting of training and veterinary records.

Animal rights groups, who supported the law, pointed to scandals in the industry involving medication and the treatment of horses.

Duncan wrote that in declaring HISA unconstitutional, “we do not question Congress’s judgment about problems in the horseracing industry. That political call falls outside our lane.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, hailed the ruling on Twitter, calling HISA a “federal takeover of Louisiana horse racing.”

Fractional interest in Flightline sells for $4.6 million

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Keeneland says a 2.5% fractional interest in Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Flightline has sold for $4.6 million during a special auction before the start of its November Breeding Stock Sale.

Brookdale Farm’s Freddy Seitz signed the ticket for an undisclosed client, the track announced in a release. The sale comes a day after ownership of the 4-year-old son of Tapit retired the unbeaten colt following his record 8\-length victory in Saturday’s $6 million, Grade 1 Classic at Keeneland. Flightline likely locked up Horse of the Year honors with his fourth Grade 1 victory in six starts by a combined victory margin of 71 lengths – dominance that has drawn comparisons to legendary Triple Crown champion Secretariat.

Flightline will begin his breeding career next year at Lane’s End Farms in Versailles, Kentucky, but a stud fee has yet to be determined. West Point Thoroughbreds, part of the bay colt’s ownership, offered the fractional interest. Seitz said the buyer wanted to “make a big splash” and get more involved in the business.

“With a special horse like (Flightline) all you can do is get involved and then just hope for the best,” Seitz said in the release.

“There has never been a horse that has done what he has done for however many years, back to Secretariat. You just have to pay up and get involved, and this is kind of what he’s thinking.”