Mr Freeze poised for fireworks in Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap


The Fourth of July feature on a fantastic day of racing at Belmont Park is the Grade 1, $500,000 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, otherwise known as the Met Mile. Historically one of the biggest races in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile division, this year’s race lives up to that billing with eight horses running the one-turn mile trip.

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.

Among those leading the field in terms of earnings is Code of Honor, who has earned more than $2.4 million to date, some of that when winning the Grade 1 Travers Stakes last summer two races after a second-place finish (via disqualification of the winner) in the Kentucky Derby. Making his first start as a 4-year-old last month, Code of Honor won the Grade 3 Westchester Stakes and appears set for even better. The horse with the top earnings in the field is McKinzie, who has amassed a $3.4 million bankroll. McKinzie rallied from next-to-last in the 2019 Metropolitan Handicap and comes into the race off a “ridden out” win in the Grade 2 Triple Bend Stakes. Mr Freeze is another talented horse with $1.4 million in career earnings. Mr Freeze won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile Stakes at this one-turn mile trip in February to prove he belongs at this level. Vekoma won the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in April 2019 and went into the Kentucky Derby well-regarded but finished 13th. A perfect 2-for-2 in 2020, Vekoma comes off a win in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Belmont last month. Westchester runner-up Endorsed and Carter runner-up Network Effect hope to turn the tables on Code of Honor and Vekoma, respectively. Hog Creek Hustle won the Grade 1 Woody Stephens Stakes last June on Belmont Stakes day but is winless in seven races since then. Warrior’s Charge rounds out the field of eight. He won the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap in February in the same manner he’s earned all of his other three wins, leading from start to finish. As such, we know who will be trying to lead these on a merry chase from the start.

Mr Freeze and Vekoma are my two top contenders to win this year’s Metropolitan Handicap, but of the pair I will give Mr Freeze preference. The reason is he’s a true dirt miler. Last September, Mr Freeze won the Ack Ack Stakes for a then career-best 115 Equibase Speed Figure and he hasn’t really run a bad race since then. Stretching out to two turns and a mile and an eighth for the Fayette Stakes in October and the Clark Stakes in November, Mr Freeze finished respectably to the top horse in the handicap division in North America, Tom’s d’Etat, winner of the Stephen Foster Stakes last weekend. After another big effort when second in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January, Mr Freeze cut back to a one-turn mile and won the Gulfstream Park Mile in impressive fashion, duplicating the 115 figure earned in the Ack Ack. Once again Mr Freeze stretched out to nine furlongs for the Oaklawn Handicap when last seen in May, finishing third of 13. Incidentally, the winner of that race (By My Standards) came back to run second to Tom’s d’Etat in the Foster. For this race, Mr Freeze is once again cutting back from a mile and one-eighth to a mile and if his last two efforts at a mile are any indication, he’s going to be very tough to beat. On another positive note, jockey Manny Franco rode Mr Freeze just once previously, when victorious in the Gulfstream Park Mile.

Vekoma, although running just twice in 2018, was a top 2-year-old as he won the Nashua Stakes in November in only the second start of his career. Similarly, he won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in his second start as a 3-year-old, before disappointing badly when 13th in the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. Given nearly 11 months to mature after that, Vekoma made a very sharp debut as a 4-year-old in March with a stirring victory in the Sir Shackleton Stakes with a career-best 109 figure. Improving sensationally in his second start of the year, Vekoma put to shame a good field in the Carter Handicap last month at Belmont when drawing off to a 7 ¼ length win. The 116 figure earned in that race is the second-best last-race figure in the field, just one point shy of the 117 McKinzie earned last month at the same seven-furlong trip. However, what Vekoma has going for him which McKinzie does not is being a 4-year-old, Vekoma is still physically maturing and can improve. A perfect 4-for-4 in one-turn races in his career and with a perfect 2-for-2 record at Belmont, Vekoma is another strong contender to win this year’s Metropolitan Handicap.

Code of Honor, like Vekoma, was a top 3-year-old last year, winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes in March. After third-place finishes in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, placed second in the latter race after the disqualification of Maximum Security, Code of Honor proved himself once again when winning the Dwyer Stakes at this one-turn mile trip at Belmont last July. Stretching out to a mile and a quarter, Code of Honor won the Travers Stakes before a career-best effort and 114 figure when coming up a nose short in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, then was moved up to first after bumped by the original winner. The long campaign apparently took its toll as he finished seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. However, after seven months off, Code of Honor came back strongly to win the Westchester Stakes last month over the track with a 113 figure effort that bears improvement in his second start off that long layoff.

Endorsed led into the stretch in the Westchester but had no answer for Code of Honor in the late stages. The 112 figure was a career-best and he certainly could be a factor once more. McKinzie earned a 117 figure winning the Triple Bend Stakes last month in California and earned back-to-back 121 figures in two-turn races, winning the Whitney Stakes last summer at Saratoga then second in the Awesome Again Stakes. He finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to end his 2019 campaign. McKinzie, along with Hog Creek Hustle has mostly a deep closing style when he runs into a very hot pace as evidenced by his eighth- to second-place effort in last year’s Metropolitan Handicap. Hog Creek Hustle earned a career-best 106 figure when coming up a nose short in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes last summer but has not come close to running that kind of race since. With only one “early” pace type in this race, Warrior’s Charge (with a career-best 104 figure), I think the late charges of both McKinzie and Hog Creek Hustle may be a bit muted. Network Effect earned a career-best 111 figure winning the restricted Big Drama Stakes in May but was no match for Vekoma in the Carter and is another who may be held to a minor award.

Win Contenders:

Mr Freeze


Code of Honor

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. 

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

bob baffert
Courier Journal/USA TODAY Sports

Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.

History reveals clues to 2023 Pegasus World Cup


The 149th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place on May 6th, 2023. By contrast, the Pegasus World Cup will have its 7th running on January 28th, 2023, on NBC and Peacock. While attempts to analyze the history of the Kentucky Derby are usually big broad strokes that look for trends, a race with only 6 previous runnings allows for a “micro” examination of each one of those runnings. My hope is that by looking at the six previous runnings, we can derive an understanding of the importance of this race and its winners. It might also give a sense of the type of horse that is most likely to succeed in the Pegasus.

First, a brief bit of history. Beginning in 2017, the Pegasus took the place of the Donn Handicap as a 9 furlong race for older horses on the schedule at Gulfstream Park. In its final year as the Donn, the race carried a purse of $500,000. By contrast, the Pegasus has had its purse as high as $16,300,000 and seems to have settled at its current purse value of $3 million. When it had inflated purse values, it was because of entry fees as high as $1 million that were put up by the owners of each horse. Currently, it is run as an invitational race, with all the money coming from the purse fund at Gulfstream. With that historical background, here is a look at each of the six previous runnings:

RELATED: How to watch Pegasus World Cup 2023: TV channel, live stream, start time

Pegasus World Cup – Year-by-Year History

1. 2017 Pegasus World Cup

Winner: Arrogate

This looked like a 2-horse race on paper. Coming off wins in the Travers Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Arrogate was sent off at ninety cents on the dollar, a deserving odds-on favorite. His main challenger was California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, who’d had a very strong 5-year-old season, posting wins in the Pacific Classic and the Awesome Again Stakes prior to finishing 2nd to Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. “Chrome” was sent off as a very solid 6/5 second choice, and the third choice was 2015 Travers Stakes winner Keen Ice at 16-1.

On this day, everything broke in favor of Arrogate, while California Chrome had an unfortunate trip around the Gulfstream oval. Breaking from the outside post is never good at Gulfstream when going 9 furlongs, and California Chrome, breaking from the 12-post, was forced 6-wide into the first turn. The strain of an outside trip was too much for him on this day, as he faded entering the far turn to finish 9th.

Meanwhile, Mike Smith had a perfect trip on Arrogate. Breaking from the rail, he sat behind longshot pacesetters Noble Bird and Neolithic. Smith brought him around the pacesetters on the far turn, and he went on to romp to a 4 ¾ length victory. His time of 1:46.83 still stands as the Gulfstream track record for a mile and an eighth. It may not have been California Chrome’s best day, but it’s doubtful that any horse could’ve properly challenged Arrogate on this day. It was a spectacular performance as he took the winner’s share of the $12 million purse and provided a remarkable inaugural for the Pegasus World Cup.

2. 2018 Pegasus World Cup

Winner: Gun Runner

Gun Runner was a deserving even-money favorite, and he ran to his form in capturing the winner’s share of the purse of over $16 million. He came into the race off of consecutive wins in the Stephen Foster Stakes, the Whitney Stakes, The Woodward Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He had a stalking trip in the Pegasus, taking over with three-eighths of a mile to go and winning by 2 ½ lengths over West Coast (a very strong horse in his own right). Gun Runner went to stud at Three Chimneys Farm after the Pegasus, and his offspring have proven to be first-rate. Among them is Cyberknife, a winner of the Haskell Stakes and the Arkansas Derby and a likely top choice in this year’s Pegasus.  Gun Runner retired with career earnings of nearly $16 million, placing him 4th all-time among horses who have raced in North America.

3. 2019 Pegasus World Cup

Winner: City of Light

Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate was attempting to become the third consecutive horse to win the Classic and the Pegasus in back-to-back fashion. He was sent off as the 3/2 favorite, but the close 2nd choice at 9/5 was Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner City of Light.  As things turned out, Accelerate might’ve fired his best shot in the Breeders’ Cup, while City of Light trained wonderfully coming into the Pegasus and had the mark of a horse who was reaching his peak. He took over the race entering the far turn and went on to win by 5 ¾ lengths over the late closing Seeking The Soul. In the Dirt Mile, Seeking The Soul completed the exacta at 10-1 odds, but in the Pegasus he was 34-1. If you simply bet back the winning exacta from the Dirt Mile, you captured an exacta that paid $82.20 for a $2 ticket. Accelerate finished 3rd, soundly beaten by over 7 lengths. City of Light went to stud at Lane’s End Farm after the Pegasus, and is off to a promising career as a stallion.

4. 2020 Pegasus World Cup 

Winner: Mucho Gusto

This race might’ve been as notable for the horses that didn’t run as it was for those that did. The week of the race, key contenders Omaha Beach and Spun To Run were scratched, Omaha Beach with a minor leg injury and Spun To Run with a skin rash. These were the 1-2 finishers from the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, with Spun To Run winning wire-to-wire and Omaha Beach closing for 2nd. That was the only loss for Omaha Beach in his previous 6 starts, and he had 4 graded stakes wins in that group, including three Grade 1 races. Had he run, he would’ve been the likely favorite.

The absence of these two set up a situation where a horse with a high cruising speed could dominate, and that was exactly what happened. Mucho Gusto was clearly one of the top remaining horses, and he got a brilliant trip under Irad Ortiz, Jr. He sat a few lengths behind front-runner Mr. Freeze, and when Ortiz asked him on the far turn, he took over the race, going on to win by 4 ½ lengths, with Mr. Freeze holding on for second. Hindsight is always 20-20, and the $8.80 win price on Mucho Gusto turned out to be an absolute steal. It reinforced the importance of looking at the entire field and seeing how the pace scenario was likely to play out. In this case, the race played right into the strengths of Mucho Gusto, and he was much the best.

5. 2021 Pegasus World Cup

Winner: Knicks Go

Dominant speed often dominates absolutely, and that was the case in this edition of the Pegasus with Knicks Go. He was coming off a wire-to-wire score in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, winning by 3 ½ lengths over 62-1 shot Jesus’ Team. In the Pegasus, for the second time in three years, the 1-2 finishers from the Dirt Mile repeated their result. This time, Knicks Go was the 6/5 favorite, with Jesus’ Team going off at nearly 12-1.  As expected, Knicks Go dominated on the front end, and Jesus’ Team closed to narrowly capture second. The Pegasus win was one of the highlights of an incredible 2021 season for Knicks Go, as later that year he would post consecutive wins in the Cornhusker Handicap, Whitney Stakes, Lukas Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, leading to his 2021 Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year.

6. 2022 Pegasus World Cup

Winner: Life Is Good

On the odds board, 2021 winner Knicks Go (.90-to-1) and the red-hot Life Is Good (.80-to-1) were virtually co-favorites. The word around Gulfstream that week, however, was that Life Is Good was training magnificently, and he performed accordingly. Life Is Good went wire-to-wire and won by 3 ¼ lengths, with the non-threatening Knicks Go finishing 2nd and 26-1 shot Stiletto Boy finishing 3rd. The top two finishers, however, illustrated the type of matchup that the Pegasus can offer. Not only was it a great matchup of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner against the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, but it represented the third time that the Dirt Mile winner (in this case, Life Is Good) was successful stretching out an extra furlong to win the Pegasus. Both horses entered the race in fine form, as well. Knicks Go had won 8 of his previous 10 starts, and Life Is Good had posted 8 wins in 11 career starts. While the Breeders’ Cup Classic usually provides fields with incredible depth, the Pegasus, in 6 runnings, has shown the ability to produce some amazing head-to-head matchups.

RELATED: Cyberknife picked as early favorite for $3 million Pegasus

Pegasus World Cup historical trends

A look at the charts of all 6 runnings of the Pegasus combined with a look at the lifetime records of the winners have produced some handicapping angles as we look forward to this year’s running:

  1. Favorites do well – In 6 runnings, the odds of the winning horse have averaged $1.56-to-1, which would produce a $2 win ticket paying about $5.10. There is money to be made, however, with horses that run “underneath” in exotic wagers. The average odds on the 2nd place finishers have been nearly 13-1, and the average odds of the 3rd place finishers have averaged just over 18-1.
  2. You need to be close up to win – Five of the six Pegasus winners had the lead with 3/8 of a mile to go. The one outlier was Mucho Gusto, who was 2 ½ lengths behind entering the far turn and then took over at the top of the stretch.
  3. Go with the hot horse – Take a look at the records of all 6 winners going into the Pegasus:

2017 – Arrogate entered the race on a 5-race win streak

2018 – Gun Runner had won his last 4 starts

2019 – City Of Light had won 4 of his last 6

2020 – Mucho Gusto had 2 wins, a second and a third in his previous 5 starts

2021 – Knicks Go had won his last 3 starts

2022 – Life Is Good had 5 wins and 1 second in his last 6 starts

Applying these criteria to the 2023 Pegasus World Cup field

  1. Favorites do well – The likely top 4 horses in the wagering this year should be Proxy (rail post will help), White Abarrio (4-for-4 lifetime at Gulfstream will draw serious betting money), Defunded (the Baffert factor and running style work in his favor) and Cyberknife (clearly one of the fastest here, and his flexible running style should help him get positioning and stay out of trouble).
  2. You need to be close up to win – Defunded looks to be the best front runner in a group that features a lot of stalkers and mid-pack runners. The only other front runner of some quality is Art Collector, although this group may be tough for him. Speedsters who are likely to quit include Ridin With Biden and Stilleto Boy. Dangerous stalkers include Simplification, White Abarrio, Skippylongstocking and Cyberknife.
  3. Go with the hot horse – Proxy won the Grade 1 Clark at Churchill in his last, so he fits this category. Defunded has won his last 2 (both graded stakes) out in California. Skippylongstocking exits a win in the Harlan’s Holiday, which is the traditional prep for this race at Gulfstream.  Cyberknife was defeated by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in his last, and he’s a very consistent performer, finishing 1st or 2nd in 9 of 12 lifetime.

Final notes

Favoritism should be a bit more wide open than it has been in previous runnings of this race.  Defunded looks the best of the front-runners. I would not be surprised to see him get a clear lead with a large pack scrambling just behind him for positioning. Don’t discount White Abarrio’s 4-for-4 record at Gulfstream. Of the “hot horse” group, give a good look at Proxy. His win in the Clark had the mark of an improving type, and the rail could help his positioning.

This look at the history of the race and how it can be applied to the 2023 edition draws no clear conclusions, although it does make an effort to point in the right direction. A large field with no dominant favorite could lead to strong payoffs. Make your wagers and enjoy the telecast from 4:30-6:00 pm ET on NBC and Peacock this Saturday.

How to Watch the 2023 Pegasus World Cup

NBC Sports is home to the 2023 Pegasus World Cup, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV, in the NBC Sports app, on and on Peacock before, during and after the two headlining races. The 2023 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Series will take place on Saturday, January 28 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. ET.