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Wide Net in the Met
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.
Hi Steve, You are right on the money to the powers that be, don't tinker with the TC races. Your thinking is clearly the summation of all points that make up the elusive quest for the Triple Crown. Intrigue is the term that most people who do not clearly understand what the sport of horse racing means and matters to many fans. Intrigue is why we spend hours poring over a 19 horse field only to find our answers humiliated and our egos humbled. And yet, to give it another shot on another day; Intrigue is the answer.
I hear your comments about why we should leave the triple crown alone. Yes the breeding is weak today and priorities are wrong (win and retire). That said, this sport is tough shape, fan interest is way down. Casual fans think the year is over after the Preakness more often than not. (and nobody showed up to the Preakness this year, no beer, nobody cares) How do we fix it? What immediate assets do we have? (we have tons of assets, but not all bring immediate rewards) I mean lets remind ourselves, BayMeadows, Rockingham, Magna tracks (Del Mar could be gone by Labor Day), Hollywood and how about the the prospects of Ellis, Suffolk (I live 3 miles away and don't attend) and soooooo many others. "Divided we fall, together..." The NTRA is not the answer, never has been. They could be but they decide not to interfere with their job security. (I'm a victim of the recession for what it's worth, I saw more Gulfstream this year than ever!) We have two assets, the horses and the Triple Crown. Right now casual fans are gone. We have no marketing plan to the Breeder's Cup. Disregard the fact that the breeders have screwed the industry. We have the greatest history in sports. We have the bleakest future in sports. I doubt my newborn daughter will ever see a horse race in person. Why? Because we wrote the history on horseracing in the US. It's a good read, let me tell you. Please put on TVG so I can watch Royal Ascot where they know how to do it. If you can't get the casual fan to the Travers they'll never watch the Breeder's Cup. The Breeder's Cup fits right into a SCHEDULE and horseracing needs to make that happen. If wee don't and its time to change or die. Fricking Nascar did it (moved away from its roots (North Caroline), by the way how many titles did UCLA win in a 64/65 team NCAAA format under Wooden? answer: who cares, they did it, forget the standard triple crown format) Time to join the 20th or 21st century. Sorry I forgot where we were when watching Wed. afternoon racing.
Adjusting for takeout the fair value exacta of 3-1 Bribon over 3-1 Smooth Air should be $34.20. In the land of Utopia, where there's no takeout the fair value would be $24. Horseplayers who play to win are advised to seek a 40% premium over fair value. That makes the Met Mile exacta playable at $48. It's balls & strikes. You don't want to swing at pitches outside the strike zone. Wait for fair value plus premium. Opportunities abound.
Steve -- great blog. Really appreciate the art from the movie (or soundtrack of) Metropolitan. Very nice. When are Rachel's connections going to decide on Belmont?
I dunno Steve, I just dont think this race was that wide open. As the betting suggested it really was a toss up between the two best horses. If Mr. Sidney had been bet down below Bribon I would have gone with him instead. I also liked MPC based upon last years performance and figured he would get a peice. I agree with Patty- Mr. Sidney should be in the mix sooner rather than later. Based upon my figures, Smooth Air was an exacta lock.
Steve: I know that you are not responsible for the NYRA; and I've not been an NYRA basher here. But it's nine days before the Belmont as I type and I still do not have the reserved seats I ordered back whenever the first opportunity to order them was. I just called and the girl I spoke to acted as if this were normal. I know you don't get involved with mundane things like reserved seats even for yourself, but your customers do. The late distribution of these tickets is absurd. No one at NYRA will listen to what I have to say, but they might listen to you if you agree with me and put pressure on them on our behalf.
To Jack: The late odds changes are a real pain, but unless there is some kind of industry wide software change, I think it will continue to happen. To me, it is a combination of the "smart" money coming in late, and usually from big bettors. Batch betting has affected it as well, with PC users making multiple wagers and clicking just before the horses leave the gate. NYRA rewards users are in effect creating a batch as well, if they make several bets all in one transaction, and submit it seconds before post time. The most annoying part is that the odds change as the horses run down the backstretch. On the positive side, at least you were right about your 5-1 shot.
Steve, Your ABC rank was interesting for the Met. I just went with the beyers and hit the tri and the super. Bribon and Smooth Air stood out to me and I took the chalk exacta and got the money the rest of the way. DRF's Closer Look got me on Driven By Success and Charlie. I love the Closer Look and I really believe it's a totally underated handicapping feature. Keep it up.
On the subject of undefeated horses, would any of you care to comment on Kincsem ? A strong knowledge of history is required to make any comparisons to Personal Ensign or Zenyatta. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kincsem
Jack- I frequent Mth and the story you tell is a familiar one. There is a TON of late money at Mth- oftentimes half the Win pool comes in the final minute. I haven't done a detailed study but based on observation the handle at Mth is highly correlated to the spacing of its races to NYRA's. So say if the Mth race goes off about 5 mins after Bel there will be a ton of late money coming in from both on and offtrack players who focus on NY as first preference.