05/31/2010 12:00AM

Quality Road dominates Met Mile

Barbara D. Livingston
Quality Road (right) battles Musket Man through the stretch of Monday's Met Mile at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Quality Road hadn't been out in 114 days and had just run six furlongs in 1:08.57 in the heat at Belmont Park. With a quarter-mile left to run in the 117th , Quality Road, the 1-4 favorite, had to be as good as advertised in order to win.

He was better.

With a spank or two from John Velazquez's whip, Quality Road pulled away from would-be challenger Musket Man in the stretch to record a 1 1/2-length victory in the Grade 1, $500,000 Metropolitan Handicap and confirm his status as the best older male horse in training.

Musket Man finished second by 1 1/2 lengths over Tizway. They were followed in the order of finish by Convocation, Le Grand Cru, Warrior's Reward, Kensei, and You and I Forever.

In his first start since winning the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in a track-record time for 1 1/8 miles, Quality Road ran a mile in 1:33.11, which equals the second-fastest final time in the 111 years the Metropolitan has been run at a mile. Langfuhr (1:33.11 in 1997) and Conquistador Cielo (1:33.00 in 1982 when time in hundredths were unavailable) also ran in 1:33 flat. Only Honour and Glory (1:32.81) ran faster. Honour and Glory carried 110 pounds as a 3-year-old when he won in 1996. Quality Road carried 124 pounds, spotting seven pounds to runner-up Musket Man.

"You're talking about a horse now that set a track record at Saratoga going 6 1/2, set two track records at Gulfstream going 1 1/8 miles, runs a mile in 1:33 flat carrying 124 pounds off a four-month layoff - as good as it gets," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher.

The victory was the seventh in 10 starts for Quality Road and third straight this year. Given the circumstances in which it was done, it may be his best race yet.

Breaking from post 7 under Velazquez, Quality Road found himself in an early duel with Le Grand Cru, the two running an opening quarter-mile in 22.55 seconds and a half-mile in 45.19. Quality Road spurted away to run six furlongs in 1:08.57.

Turning into the stretch, it looked as though Musket Man, under Ramon Dominguez, was gearing up for a stretch challenge. At the eighth pole, Velazquez smacked the colt right-handed and then continued to keep busy on the colt, hitting him again before going to a vigorous hand ride late. Quality Road, owned and bred by Ed Evans, returned $2.50 to win.

"The first quarter was easy enough for him now let them come and get him," Velazquez said when asked what he was thinking after the early fractions. "After that we picked it up and we picked it up pretty quick, and he just kept doing it. I encouraged him to the quarter pole, at the three-sixteenths pole, I got after him. He went up and ran and then he put the head up a little bit that's why I kept busy a little bit to get his mind on running."

Though the fractions were fast, Pletcher didn't feel like Quality Road was in peril at any point.

"It seemed like he was doing it so easy," said Pletcher, who captured his first Met Mile. "I said to Johnny, let him run away from there and get into his rhythm . . . . I mean he's just brilliant horse. . . . What's even more impressive was not only the way he did it, but he came back and hardly took a deep breath. Phenomenal."

Pletcher said he would like to make the Whitney at Saratoga on Aug. 7. If he runs before then, the most likely spot would be the Grade 2, $300,000 Suburban here on July 3.

In his last three starts, Musket Man has finished second in the Carter, third in the Churchill Downs Handicap, and second in the Met. Last year, he finished third in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

"Thought we had him," said Musket Man's trainer, Derek Ryan. "He made a run at him he closed, he did everything right. Can't take anything away from the winner. I just got to figure out how to make up two lengths."