05/22/2006 11:00PM

Bandini can join Met Mile greats

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LAS VEGAS - The Metropolitan Handicap, the traditional Memorial Day feature at Belmont Park, is America's most prestigious mile race. According to the old axiom, top milers make the best stallions, and judging from the roster of its past winners, this is the race breeders want to win.

Past winners of the Metropolitan Handicap who became prominent stallions include Tom Fool (1953), Native Dancer (1954), Gallant Man (1958), Sword Dancer (1959), Buckpasser (1967), In Reality (1968), Arts and Letters (1969), Nodouble (1970), Tentam (1973), Fappiano (1981), Gulch (1987-88), In Excess (1991), Holy Bull (1994), Honour and Glory (1986), Langfuhr (1997), and Wild Rush (1998).

The 1960's provided a particularly rich chapter in Met Mile history. Kelso won in 1961, and was only one of four horses (along with Whisk Broom II in 1913,Tom Fool in 1953, and Fit to Fight in 1984) to ever win the Metropolitan, Suburban, and Brooklyn handicaps in the same year - three stakes that were formerly called the Handicapping Triple Crown.

Gun Bow, who was Kelso's greatest rival, and who narrowly missed Horse of the Year honors in 1964, won the 1965 Met carrying 130 pounds over the high-class Chieftain (117 pounds) and champion racemare Affectionately (121 pounds).

Bold Lad, the 2-year-old champion of 1964, had an injury-plagued year at 3 but returned to his championship form at 4 to reel off three straight victories before rallying to win the 1966 Met in the quick time of 1:34.20 under 132 pounds despite sitting off a wicked pace of 44.00 seconds and 1:08.00.

A champion at 2, 3, and 4 (and Horse of the Year at 3), Buckpasser emulated his sire, Tom Fool, winning the 1967 Metropolitan, his 15th straight victory.

In Reality had the misfortune of being born in the same crop as Successor (2-year-old champion), Damascus (3-year-old champion and Horse of the Year), and Dr. Fager (a multiple champion and Horse of the Year at 4), but still won major races at 2, 3, and 4, including the Pimlico Futurity, Florida Derby, and 1968 Metropolitan Handicap.

Trainer Elliott Burch, who used Quadrangle's second in the Met as the perfect prep for his victory in the 1964 Belmont Stakes (defeating Roman Brother and Derby and Preakness winner Northern Dancer), won the 1969 Met with 3-year-old Arts and Letters, who also won the Belmont, ending the Triple Crown hopes of runner-up Majestic Prince.

Nodouble, who was second to Arts and Letters in 1969, narrowly won the 1970 Met in a thriller over Reviewer. Reviewer, a year younger than his full sister, 1967 2-year-old filly champion Queen of the Stage, won 4 of 5 starts at 2 before breaking a cannon bone in the Hopeful, where he was second to juvenile champion Top Knight. Reviewer returned at 3 to win the Swift Stakes and Bay Shore (under 130 pounds) and dead-heated for second in the Gotham before again breaking a cannon bone while finishing third, beaten a nose and a neck by Dike and Al Hattab in the Wood Memorial.

Despite two serious surgeries, the bionic Reviewer returned at age 4 better than ever, winning a six-furlong allowance in a sizzling 1:08.70 off nearly a one-year layoff and the seven-furlong Roseben Handicap. After battling with the speedy Tyrant through fractions of 22.70, 45.00, and 1:09.40 in the Met Mile, Reviewer appeared on his way to victory but was nailed on the wire by Nodouble in 1:34.60, a track record.

Reviewer only raced one more time, blitzing a field that included Dewan and champion Gallant Bloom in the Nassau County Handicap, running nine furlongs in a sizzling 1:46.80 before breaking a cannon bone for the third time, forcing his retirement. Reviewer sired multiple champion Ruffian in his first crop and champion Revidere in his second crop, but died at the young age of 11 after an accident in his paddock at Claiborne Farm.

Pedigree profile of a Met Mile winner

Bandini, who won last year's Blue Grass Stakes before being injured in the Kentucky Derby, heads this year's edition of the Met Mile, and a victory would enhance his value as a stallion.

From the first crop of Fusaichi Pegasus (the only son of Mr. Prospector to win the Kentucky Derby), Bandini is from one of the most productive female families in the Stud Book. His dam, Divine Dixie, was stakes-placed, and is a half-sister to stakes winners Stormy Atlantic and Mr. Katowice. Bandini's second dam, Hail Atlantis (Seattle Slew), won the Santa Anita Oaks, and his third dam, Flippers (Coastal), was also a stakes winner.

Bandini's fourth dam, Moccasin, was so impressive winning all eight of her starts in 1965 that she was not only the champion 2-year-old filly, she was also the only juvenile filly in history to be voted Horse of the Year. A full sister to 1961 co-2-year-old champion Ridan and multiple stakes winner Lt. Stevens, she was out of the blue hen Rough Shod II, who also produced Moccasin's half-sister Gambetta (the dam of champion racemare Gamely). Moccasin was as successful as a broodmare as she was on the track, producing seven stakes winners, including Apalachee (2-year-old champion in England and Ireland), Belted Earl (champion sprinter and older male in Ireland), Nantequos, Brahms (not to be confused with the current Danzig sire), Scuff, Indian, and Flippers.

As remarkable as Moccasin was as a racemare and broodmare, her younger full sister, stakes-placed Thong, became the most significant member of this illustrious tribe. Thong's stakes winners included Thatch (2-year-old champion in England and champion miler in Ireland), King Pellinore, Lisadell, and Espadrille. But her most important foal was Special, a full sister to Thatch and Lisadell. Unplaced in her only career start, Special produced three stakes winners - champion Nureyev, Bound, and Number. Another daughter, Fairy Bridge, is the dam of Sadler's Wells.