05/24/2009 11:00PM

Bribon claims Met Mile honors

Vanessa Ng/NYRA
Bribon (left), with Alan Garcia riding, defeats Smooth Air by a half-length in the Shadwell Metropolitan Handicap. Both went off at 3-1.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Bribon picked the most opportune time to record back-to-back wins.

In what was considered a wide-open renewal of the Grade 1, $600,000 Shadwell Metropolitan Handicap, Bribon, the 3-1 favorite, outfinished second choice Smooth Air, also at 3-1, by a half-length Monday at Belmont Park. It was another length back to Driven by Success, who held third by a nose over My Pal Charlie.

It was the eighth victory from 27 career starts for Bribon, a 6-year-old French-bred gelded son of Mark of Esteem owned by Marc Keller and trained by Robert Ribaudo. It was the first time, however, that Bribon was able to win two consecutive races. He was coming off a one-length victory in the Grade 3 Westchester here on April 29.

"This could be the year of the gelding, I guess, with Mine That Bird and him," said Ribaudo, referring to the Kentucky Derby winner. "This is just incredible. It's hard to put in words, especially being from New York. The Met Mile is always something great."

Even with the scratch of Mr. Fantasy, there appeared to be enough speed in the Met Mile to set it up for Bribon. Driven by Success and Accredit dueled through an opening quarter-mile of 22.70 seconds, but Driven by Success quickly opened up a two-length lead after running a half-mile in 45.20 seconds. Smooth Air and Riley Tucker had picked up the chase from a faltering Accredit.

Meanwhile, Alan Garcia had Bribon in seventh position early, wanting to bide his time before asking his horse to run. Garcia launched a four-wide bid into a fast third quarter that Driven by Success ran in 23.55 seconds.

Bribon came four wide into the stretch and was able to outfinish Smooth Air in the final sixteenth. Bribon covered the mile in 1:34.15 and returned $8.20 to win.

"When they went from 45 and change to 1:08 and change and he was running into that, I was a little concerned he'd hang from the eighth pole home, because that was a pretty good run he put in there," Ribaudo said. "Maybe everybody was hanging a little, but he was the gamest today."

Smooth Air, who was making his first start since beating Bribon by 6 3/4 lengths in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 14, also ran a game race. Under Paco Lopez, he was a close-up fourth early and continued on despite having missed a scheduled start in last month's Texas Mile at Lone Star Park because of a bout of colic.

"Not running in Lone Star might have taken a little something out of him - you can only ask so much out of a horse," said Bennie Stutts, trainer of Smooth Air.