05/25/2009 10:56AM

Wide Net in the Met


Metropolitan Outside of the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup, there aren't many Grade 1 races where you get a 12-horse field, much less a 12-horse field where you wouldn't fall off your chair if any of eight of them won it. But that's what we've got today in a wide-open 116th running of the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont.

Let's go through the field from the rail out. You can play along with free Formulator pp's by clicking here since the Met is the DRF Race of the Day:

1. Accredit (10-1): One of the few easy tosses for me. He comes off a career-best effort winning the G2 Churchill Downs on the Derby undercard, but he coasted alone in the slop and was weakening late, as he did in his only other start as far as 7f. He'll have to gun from the rail today, won't get lose with Driven For Success in the field, and would be a shaky prospect in the eighth furlong under any circumstances. Grade: X.

2. Smooth Air (4-1):  Fast enough, proven at a mile, and perhaps what people used to call "the class of the race": He's a three-time G2 winner on the dirt in a field where the only G1 victories have come on the grass or in Argentina. An obvious contender at a modest price, but perhaps vulnerable off a 10-week break, and he has has hung late when returning from similar layoffs. He was scratched from a scheduled start April 25 at Lone Star due to colic. Grade: B/X (Means I respect him but will play against.)

3. Famous Patriot (30-1): Looks a tad slow and seriously outclassed at first glance but returned from a three-month break with a track/distance win here May 1, earning a career-best figure. Maybe that signalled the start of something good, he should improve second off a layoff, and another move forward here could make him a player. Interesting at a big price. Grade: C.

4. Imperial Council (15-1): Still some serious upside here after only six career start's for the field's lone 3-year-old, but his perfect-trip Peter Pan was flat, and he loses Prado to The Roundhouse, inheriting a rider who's 0 for 39 at the meet. Grade: C

5. Riley Tucker (15-1): Like Accredit, won at 7f in the slop on the Derby undercard, but was loose against a weak N2x allowance field, and his only other good races have been on synthetic tracks and he's 0 for 7 at more than 7f. Grade: X

6. The Roundhouse (12-1): Now or never. A fast, closing sprinter as a 2-year-old, returned from 18 months on the sidelines with three progressively better 7f efforts this spring as a 4-year-old. Third to Accredit and My Pal Charlie in the CD, he was flying at the end and maybe a flat mile at Belmont is what Circular Quay's half-brother was always meant for. Grade: A 

7. Ready's Echo (20-1): His career-best Beyer is a lowly 92 a year ago but I've always thought this colt had a special late kick, and maybe he, like fellow Pletcher trainee The Roundhouse, is in an ideal spot. The race would really have to melt down to get him all the way up, but it just might. Grade: B.

8. Mr. Sidney (10-1): Technically the lone U.S. Grade 1 winner in the field, but that was on soft turf last time out in a severely subpar field in the Maker's Mark at Keeneland (the first five finishers in a "Grade 1" field of six had combined to win a single G3 race.) 3-for-3 at the distance on turf but hasn't tried dirt since an indifferent career debut. Grade: C/X

9. My Pal Charlie (8-1): I can't get away from him but it might be getting personal after betting and losing on him in his last two starts, and thinking he had indecisive rides and impossible trips both times (rushed up a bad rail at Keeneland, bad start and all over track at Churchill). One more chance. Grade: A

10. Mr. Fantasy (6-1) will be scratched.

11. Bribon (3-1): Finally got an overdue graded stakes victory winning the Westchester here opening day, but didn't look particularly good doing it. Maybe he moved too early into a hot pace, but he needed nearly 26 seconds for a tiring final quarter mile. On the other hand, he might just be the fastest horse: He owns the field's five best Beyers at 7f and up. More than capable, but no bargain as the 3-1 favorite. Grade: B.

12. Driven by Success (20-1): A six-furlong specialist with a couple of giant efforts in allowance company, and his last two stakes efforts were valiant duels with speedballs in hot-paced races. If anyone's going to wire this field, it's more likely him than Accredit or Riley Tucker, but he hasn't won in three tries beyond 6.5f and is shaky to do so here. Grade: C

13. Runforthedoe-BRZ (20-1): Farfetched but not completely impossible, and highly eligible to improve in just his seventh career start. A Group 1 winner in Argentina last year, he has improved in each of three U.S. starts, running his best yet in his return to dirt. Might like dropping back a turn and furlong here. Grade: B.  

I know, I know, that's nine open horses including 6 A's and B's in a field of 12, but four of those six are from 8-1 to 20-1 on the line and I'll focus on them: My Pal Charlie, The Roundhouse, Ready's Echo and Runforthedoe. As for the two favorites, Bribon and Smooth Air are solid citizens, but vulnerable in a chaotic race that could light up the toteboard. I'll use Bribon defensively and take my chances against Smooth Air.

Update 7 p.m.: The wisdom of the crowd prevailed in the Met Mile as Bribon and Smooth Air went off co-favored at 3.15-1 each, with Bribon attracting a few hundred dollars more, and the seemingly wide-open race ended in precisely that chalky order. Bribon prevailed by half a length over Smooth Air, and it was a length back to pace-setting Driven by Success, who nosed out My Pal Charlie for third. Only 4 1/4 lengths separated the first seven under the wire.

I still don't think 3-1 was any bargain on the winner, though some of the exotics paid handsomely -- particularly a $2 superfecta payoff of $1,987 for the 1st, 2nd, 6th and 4th choices, who also were the only four horses in the field to have ever run Beyers of 103 or better.

Patience has paid off with Bribon, a 6-year-old French gelding (by Mark of Esteem from an Arazi mare), who was making his 27th career start today, and has really found himself late in his career, scoring his first graded stakes victory last time out in the Westchester and then became a G1 winner today. Smooth Air was solid in defeat, and should be even better next time, as he was coming off an illness and a 10-week layoff today. Perhaps the most impressive performance came from Driven by Success, who dueled early with Accredit, opened a clear lead in 1:08.55, and was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths while racing at least a furlong beyond his best distance.