Updated on 05/30/2013 9:52AM

Belmont Park: Sahara Sky by a nose in Metropolitan Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Sahara Sky and jockey Joel Rosario get up in the last stride to win the Met Mile.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Cross Traffic had fended off the early pace challenge of Handsome Mike and then turned back a stretch bid from Mark Valeski. With a furlong to go in Monday’s 120th Metropolitan Handicap, it looked as though Cross Traffic was going to avenge his tough head loss in the Grade 3 Westchester Handicap last month.

But storming down the middle of the Belmont Park main strip came Sahara Sky, who, under Joel Rosario, needed every centimeter of the 1,097-foot Belmont stretch to run down Cross Traffic and win the Grade 1, $750,000 Met Mile by a nose before a crowd of 11,664 on a gorgeous Memorial Day on Long Island.

Cross Traffic, making just his fourth career start, finished second by 3 1/2 lengths over Flat Out, who encountered traffic trouble at the five-sixteenths pole but still managed to get third. He was followed by Mark Valeski, Fed Biz, Fort Loudon, Swagger Jack, Handsome Mike, and Discreet Dancer.

It was the first Grade 1 win for Sahara Sky, a 5-year-old son of Pleasant Tap trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by Hollendorfer and Kim Lloyd.

“My partner and I talked it over, and one of our goals was to win the Metropolitan Mile,” Hollendorfer said. “I’d never won it, and I wanted a chance to win it, and Kim did also. We had a little added confidence because we thought our horse ran good in New York over at Aqueduct, and with a little better trip, we might have even won that race.”

The loss by Cross Traffic capped a frustrating afternoon for trainer Todd Pletcher, who finished second and fourth in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps and third in the Grade 1 Acorn.

“He had to defend himself every step of the way; he had to fight off Mark Valeski,” Pletcher said. “I just think the other horse made a move so far out in the middle of the track that I don’t think he really saw him because he was right back in front after the wire.”

Sahara Sky was last as Cross Traffic, who, breaking from the rail, was carried in briefly at the start by stablemate Discreet Dancer, assumed the lead, and set fractions of 22.40 seconds and 44.88 for the opening half-mile while being pressed by Handsome Mike.

When Handsome Mike dropped back, Mark Valeski, under Rosie Napravnik, pounced and appeared to put a head in front in upper stretch.

Emboldened by the challenge, Cross Traffic came back and spurted clear under John Velazquez. But Sahara Sky, who had split horses deftly at the quarter pole, came five or six wide turning for home. Rosario kept him out in the middle of the track and stormed home to just get up in the final jump.

“I wanted to be away from horses because when he gets to horses, he kind of waits a little bit,” Rosario said. “Maybe if I keep him by myself, he’s going to be a little better; that’s what I figured.”

Velazquez, who rode Cross Traffic, said Rosario keeping Sahara Sky that far out made the difference.

“The other horse is so far out in the middle of the track, he never saw him,” Velazquez said. “If he would have come close to [Cross Traffic], I’m pretty sure he would have put another fight to him.”

Sahara Sky covered the mile in 1:34.17 and returned $11.60 to win.

Flat Out, the 5-2 favorite who had won four graded stakes in four races over Belmont’s main track, did well to be third after bumping with Swagger Jack at the five-sixteenths pole when another horse to his outside came down on him.

Junior Alvarado, the rider of Flat Out, said that incident cost him the race.

“When I asked my horse, he didn’t respond to me right away,” Alvarado said. “By the time I got in the hole, there was another horse trying to get through, and the horse outside definitely came down. The bumping and clipping heels took me out of the race completely. He should have won the race for sure.”

zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
Great race. Helped by the pace, but Sahara Sky can even be better. Cross Traffic showed a lot of heart. Look forward to a budding rivalry.
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
Excellent win by Sahara Sky. Sahara Sky kept grinding away at the leader. Very nice performance, indeed. Sahara Sky flew under the radar for the most part prior to the race, very little chatter was going on about this horse. Joel Rosario did great putting Sahara in the middle of the track to eat up lots of ground in the final strides of the race. Fine job, Mr. Rosario. Congratulations to Sahara Sky, Joel Rosario, and Jerry Hollendorfer as owner/trainer of Sahara Sky, along with Kim Lloyd as co-owner. Winning the Met Mile is quite a coup for them, and a fabulous first G1 win for Sahara Sky. There are great things ahead for Sahara Sky (lovely name). I'm looking forward to viewing more exciting racing in the future by him.
Tom Temple More than 1 year ago
I did notice something before the race that made me pick him. This guy sure does like coming off a freshening. He has won every time coming off a lay off, great pattern. In addition, subtract the poly track races and he has won or placed each time except for once. Dangerous horse.
You Feel Lucky More than 1 year ago
Cross Traffic runs a 1:33 mile with a 115 beyer, and now a 1:34 mile and i am guessing a triple digit beyer and lose's both by a nose, tough beats. This horse runs hard every time. Hope he stays healty
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
Nice to see West Coast runners going back East to school them on their home track. WEST COAST RULES ON THE EAST COAST. . . . . .
Mr. Ed More than 1 year ago
I'm bi-coastal when it comes to good racing, but I find it odd that when a west coast horse actually comes east and wins someone spouts like a kid on a grade school playground, even if it's once in ten tries. And your name is Forego? That's as east coast as it gets.
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
I'm proud of the left coast horse (because of earlier familiarity and a nice return in the San Carlos), but how could you not appreciate Cross Traffic? Lightning fast pace PLUS another burst of energy in response to Mark Valeski's challenge. It doesn't get much better than what these two horses showed in the race of the year so far. If you're going to use the term 'schooling', maybe you don't want to pick a photo finish.
jttf More than 1 year ago
patience, patience, patience with your unbridled song horses. emcee, graydar and now cross traffic have proved that. they all did not make to the races until well into their 3 year old campaigns. which means they all could reach their full potential as race horses. another true example of how lasix interfers with the growth of our star horses. when are people going to learn ? do race fans want to see our star horses put up higher speed ratings and run more often ? that means we would get to see our stars run against each other more often.
Kevin Ryan More than 1 year ago
Name one champion who was not in training if not racing as a two year old?? Zero.
BillBll7 More than 1 year ago
Black More than 1 year ago
Zenyatta, TiZnow. That said this guy JTTF has a one track mind and its on the wrong track.
jttf More than 1 year ago
why would i waste my time listing all of your so called champions, whatever that means ? current top horses include wise dan, game on dude, point of entry did not race with lasix at 2. animal kingdom, fort larned only raced with it once. little mike had it twice at 2. get off of the couch, and do yourself some research. ask the jockeys how they feel after using lasix on a regular basis.
Kevin Ryan More than 1 year ago
No malice intended by initial comment. I have known and worked with a lot of Jocks -- can not mention the names as they won't post this. I knew guys who were using lasix and sweating themselves to death, and starving themselves to death. I am not in favor of drugs for horse or human. Bloodhorse published something years ago which presented a case that in large numbers, Geldings and Fillies or Mares ran faster on lasix, while colts and horses did not. Just one statistical study. So in the end it probably doesn't mean much. My deceased friend and author was vehemently opposed to lasix and or bute -- which are both allowed at most tracks. Think before you speak.
jttf More than 1 year ago
kevin, horses do run on an average, 2.5 lengths faster on lasix. but, the key is, lasix stunts the growth of thoroughbreds for later on in their lives. 2 year olds still run just as fast as the 1980s. look at all of the horse of year winners and breeders cup classic winners. not much lasix was being used at the age of two for a high percentage of these winners. champion can mean many different things depending on the person. i dont agree that mott used steroids on cigar. hassinger trained cigar first. hassinger did not do much with AP's fantastic stable. but, cigar never raced on lasix at the age of 2. look back at mott's best years. he was winning breeders cup races up until 1998. then went on long dry spell and did not win a breeders cup race until 2010. steroids were first getting tested in 2009. since then, mott has been the best breeders cup trainer with 4 wins in ladies classics or classics. so mott has benefitted from steroid testing.
Kevin Ryan More than 1 year ago
Cigar, Tiznow and Zenyatta were all in training as two year olds.
Kevin Ryan More than 1 year ago
And what does Furosemide have to do with it. Holy Bull never ran on Lasix or Bute and did just fine. Cigar ran on both, plus anabolic steroids every time. I had a good friend who wrote several books on scientific training. I guess I can't mention his name as my initial post was rejected. He had good ideas and bad ideas. One of the latter ignored the window of motor development skills which all people and horses have. You can't start a playing a musical instrument at 30 and expect to get anywhere. And for champions, I meant horses like Stormbird, Ribot, Kelso, Secretariat, Alleged.... Not Wise Dan or Game on Dude.
Kevin Ryan More than 1 year ago
I take that back ( about Cigar ) when he won the world cup no drugs were allowed.
Kevin Ryan More than 1 year ago
Cigar, Zenyatta and Tiznow were all in training as 2 year olds. I think you are missing the point. I had a friend, now dead, Tom Ivers. Everyone in the horse business hated him. But he had some good ideas. Ask Michael Dickinson. He also had some bad ideas: taking yearlings out of the field and boxing them in a stall, high speed treadmills, insisting on a 3 inch toe and and 49 degree angle without regards to the pastern alignment, and the concept of not starting a horse until it was 5 or 6 years old. Humans like horses have a limited window to develop their motor skills. A 50 year old man ( or woman ) who decides to start playing the piano is NEVER going to be Glenn Gould. I am not talking about Wise Dan or Game on Dude. Think: Kelso, Ribot, Secretariat, Forego, Alleged, Affirmed, Mill Reef, Stormbird. And what the hell does Furosemide have to do with anything I said?
M D More than 1 year ago
For those of you that are questioning the photo, please get a life. At the 3:47 mark of the above clip, you can easily see that Sahara won by a nose. For those of that don't know this, the "wire" at belmont is after the cement post that says Belmont Park on it. Perhaps thats the reason for some of the confusion. At first glance, I thought Sahara nipped Cross Traffic and the photo certainly backed it up.
Jerry Cumberland More than 1 year ago
Cross Traffic is very impressive.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Cross Traffic lost....just like how Bodemeister lost twice to IHA.....for some wierd and stupid reason Bodemeister was the better horse....NO Bodemeister was not the better horse.....nothing impressive about having early speed and then LOSING A RACE....the race is not 0.98 mile....it's a mile....
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
Easy does it Michael. Cross Traffic is extremely talented,and was indeed Very Impressive. He was making just the fourth start of his carreer. He did lose the race. But he did all the dirty work for Sahara Sky, who couldd not have asked for a better set up. SS should have ran right by and won by two or three. Not saying Sahara Sky does not deserve the win. He does. And congrats to Jerry H. (One of the best.).
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
That is what you call working hard instead of working smarter... this industry seems to think speed is great when WINNING IS WHAT COUNTS.... actually Big Jeff it has nothing to do with Cross Traffic...for some odd weird unjustified reason all these early speed that loses by half a length of a few inches are the better horse......the breeding for frail short speed horses is why this industry is in bad shape.....
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
Not all speed types are the better horse,but in this case Cross Traffic was very impressive. Racing is indeed full of cheap speed horses that seem to throw out the anchor about mid stretch. At all class levels. At all tracks. Your point on the breeding is taken, and pretty much agreed with. But the game needs its sprinters too. Which ,by the way,I think Cross Traffic will sretch out and be even better. And you are also correct on one other point...You only cash if you WIN. Best of luck to you.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
I can never understand the rational for all these speed horses.....somehow they are the ones that are talented or whatever.....unfortunately most of them are sprinters and milers.....horses that are frail and barely races a half a dozen races or so.....sorry if i do not quite get the hype.... Bring back the great thoroughbreds of the past that won the big events and at the classic distances.....those are the thoroughbreds we need today....not short careers flash in the pans....
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Forego can go 2 miles carrying 130+lbs and was also a champion sprinter!!...and ran past 5 years old and dozens of races....the kind of thoroughbred that is made the headlines..... now we are breeding sprinters that cannot go further than a mile....barely run a few races and gone....yes we need sprinters but that was after a tb proved he is a true thoroughbred... Now all we breed are flash in the pans sprinters....We do not even know how many races Cross Traffic will have in his career.....So to say he is a monster is presumptuous....how many open G1 has he won?,,,,,
BillBll7 More than 1 year ago
The jock said his horse couldn't see Rosario's horse and that made the differance.
Joel Winicki More than 1 year ago
Take that all you Cali racing bashers! ML & SS on the east coast..........representing!
Mr. Ed More than 1 year ago
I never head of anyone bashing any horses from Cali Columbia.
petomane More than 1 year ago
Cali bashers? The man is in the Bay Area--a nation separate unto itself!
scott More than 1 year ago
Great race.... reminded me of last year's edition when Shack won the photo over late charging Caleb's Posse.
Brian Leckie More than 1 year ago
The Met Mile is the greatest mile race in America, forget about the BCDM. Every year it's either a great betting race, has top-class horses, or both! Always has great performances or thrilling finishes. You can't go wrong with the Met.
petomane More than 1 year ago
I agree. Forget about the Triple Crown races, the BC--the Met Mile is the one to which I most look forward. I think Rosario gave a lousy ride in the Preakness. Orb should not be allowed to run with horses on either side. But Sahara Sky got a genius ride--right down the middle of the track: "The Invisible Stud." Flat Out got lucky once. Twice in a row would have been against all odds. And really: how can anyone think that Hollendorfer travels other than with malice in mind.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Nobody knows the met mile outside of USA.....it used to be the Suburban Handicap, Santa Anita Handicap, JCGC, Brooklyn Handicap etc etc were the great races....now somehow this sprinting race is the greatest? No wonder this industry is going nowhere......