05/26/2012 1:06PM

Belmont: Met Mile a powerful six-pack

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
To Honor and Serve, wi th Jose Lezcano riding, wins the Westchester.

ELMONT, N.Y. – There may have been races run in the handicap division this year that have drawn bigger fields, but it would be hard to argue there have been any with a better field than the one assembled for Monday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park.

The six horses entered to run in the 119th Met Mile have combined to win 56 races, 17 of which were graded stakes, including five Grade 1s. The combined earnings of the sextet is $7.95 million.

“I can’t think of another race they’ve had this year that has been as competitive,” said trainer Bill Mott, who won the Santa Anita Handicap with Ron the Greek but who sends out To Honor and Serve in the Met. “It’s a deep field where everybody appears to be in good form.”

To Honor and Serve comes in off a win in the Grade 3 Westchester. Shackleford, the 2011 Preakness winner, won the Grade 2 Churchill Downs last out. Jackson Bend won the Grade 1 Carter. Caixa Eletronica won the $1 million Charles Town Classic. Saginaw won the $100,000 Affirmed Success nine days ago.

The only horse not coming off a win is Caleb’s Posse, and he is the 8-5 morning-line favorite. He comes in off a nose loss to Jackson Bend in the Carter and a neck loss to Calibrachoa in the Tom Fool in March.

“I’m confident in my horse. He’s ready to go, but it’s a tough, tough race,” trainer Donnie Von Hemel said. “I can make a case for nearly every horse in the race.”

To Honor and Serve has won four of his last five starts – including the Grade 1 Cigar Mile – with his only loss coming in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He came off a five-month layoff to win the Westchester here by 5 1/4 lengths in terrific fashion. He ran fast – a mile in 1:34.84 – but not too fast.

“Certainly I would say it was good enough,” Mott said. “He ran fast enough, he ran well enough. It’s not like we’re coming off the bench. We’ve had our race. Hopefully we have no excuse. The one major obstacle in the race would be the one hole.”


To Honor and Serve has the rail, but with the speedy Shackleford to his outside, jockey Jose Lezcano should have room to maneuver To Honor and Serve to the outside.

Von Hemel’s biggest concern for Caleb’s Posse is that short fields don’t often yield the type of fast pace that his late-running horse needs to be most effective.

With Shackleford and Saginaw in here, the pace should be solid.

One thing in his Caleb’s Posse’s favor is the mile distance. He won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last fall at Churchill by four lengths. Rajiv Maragh will ride from post 3.

Jackson Bend defeated Caleb’s Posse by a nose in the Carter with a strong middle-move along the rail. He breaks from post 6 under Corey Nakatani on Monday.

Though Jackson Bend has won nine races and two Grade 1’s, one could make a case that his best race came in last year’s Kelso, when he was beaten three lengths by Uncle Mo while finishing eight lengths clear of the field.

“I’m hoping he runs back to that Kelso mile against Uncle Mo,” trainer Nick Zito said. If he does that we’ll be okay.”

Shackleford finished second to Caleb’s Posse in the Met Mile and seemed to return to form with his victory in the Churchill Downs, in which he defeated the champion sprinter Amazombie.

John Velazquez rides Shackleford, replacing the injured Jesus Castanon.


Last year, Caixa Eletronica won the Westchester before finishing third in the Met Mile. He comes off three-length victory in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic.

“We’re very optimistic he’s going to run as well as he can,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We’ll see if that’s good enough against these horses.”

Saginaw has won five straight races, including all four for trainer David Jacobson, who claimed the horse for $30,000 in March.

The Met Mile is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita. The winner of the Met Mile gets all entry fees paid and a travel stipend.

The Met Mile is the 10th race on an 11-race program that begins at 12:50 p.m. It is the last leg of an all graded stakes pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $500,000. The other races in the sequence are the Grade 3 Sands Point, the Grade 1 Phipps, and the Grade 1 Acorn.