05/30/2010 12:00AM

Quality Road rested and ready

Barbara D. Livingston
Quality Road, with Patti Barry up, gallops Saturday at Belmont.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Todd Pletcher began the month of May by capturing his first Kentucky Derby after a decade-long drought that consisted of 24 runners. On Monday, he will try to end the month another drought when he sends out Quality Road against seven challengers in the 117th running of the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap.

Since 2001, Pletcher has run 10 horses - including three favorites - in seven runnings of the Met Mile. The best finish he could muster was a third with Lawyer Ron, the 8-5 favorite in 2007, and Strong Hope, who was third as the 9-5 choice in 2004.

"I've always respected the race, I like the race and wanted to win the race," Pletcher said. "I don't think it's held in the same regard as the classics or Triple Crown races, but it's a prestigious race, I'd love to win it."

Quality Road was forced to miss the 2009 Triple Crown due to a foot injury, and though he is already a two-time Grade 1 winner, a victory in the Met would be the most prestigious win on Quality Road's resume.

Quality Road, who is 6 for 7 on a fast track and 0 for 2 in the slop, has not run since winning the Grade 1 Donn Handicap by 12 3/4 lengths on Feb. 6 at Gulfstream Park, a victory that was preceded by a 2 3/4-length score in the one-mile Hal's Hope in January.

The 114-day layoff from the Donn to the Met was by design, Pletcher said, in order to have a fresh horse for a summer and fall campaign he hopes will include the Whitney, Woodward and/or Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Last summer, off a 128-day layoff, Quality Road won the Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga while setting a track record of 1:13.74 for 6 1/2 furlongs. That was his first start for Pletcher.

"He's run well fresh before - the Amsterdam was exceptional,"said Pletcher, who trains Quality Road for owner Ed Evans. "I think we've got him ready enough and hopefully his brilliance will take care of the rest."

Pletcher was pleased that Quality Road drew post 7 in the eight-horse field. That draw should give jockey John Velazquez plenty of options on where to position Quality Road early. The horse has enough speed to be on or just off the early pace. Tizway, Le Grand Cru and Kensei, who won the Dwyer over this track last year, have some early speed.

Quality Road is the 124-pound highweight, spotting six pounds to Warrior's Reward and seven to Musket Man, who finished 1-2, noses apart, in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 3.

Ian Wilkes, the trainer of Warrior's Reward - who has found a niche as a closing one-turn horse - respects Quality Road, but he also believe he is bringing a formidable opponent to the race.

"I look forward to the challenge," Wilkes said. "My horse is doing unbelievably well. I want to see him compete against the best."

Trainer Marty Wolfson ships You and I Forever from south Florida coming off a solid off-the-pace victory in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. In the Hal's Hope, You and I Forever finished second to Quality Road from a pace-pressing position.

"My horse ran really good against him when he was second and it was totally the wrong way for him to run," Wolfson said. "He laid second, moved to his flank at the quarter pole and that's not the way this horse likes to run."

Wolfson credited Javier Castellano's patience in the Gulfstream Park Handicap as the key to victory. Castellano is back aboard on Monday.

Allen Jerkens upset the Grade 3 Westchester with Le Grand Cru, who has now won his last three one-turn mile races at Belmont Park. Le Grand Cru blew out a half-mile in a bullet 47.11 seconds on Saturday over the training track. He shows a similar work pattern to this as he did leading up to the Westchester.

Musket Man, who was beaten a nose by Warrior's Reward and who finished third in the Churchill Downs Sprint Handicap, figures to be a stretch threat under Ramon Dominguez.

Convocation, who finished second in the Westchester, completes the field.