The Met Mile, carded as Race 9 on the Belmont Stakes undercard, is loaded with superstars and figures to overshadow the actual Belmont Stakes. For hardcore racing fans, the chance to see Mitola, McKinzie, Thunder Snow, Firenze Fire, and Coal Front square off against each other is cause for major anticipation and excitement.
Firenze Fire will bring a perfect record at Belmont Park into the June 8 blockbuster $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap (G1), a race so overflowing in talent that a two-time winner of the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) is listed as the 5-1 fourth choice.
“It’s pretty amazing to get all these horses together,” Firenze Fire’s owner Ron Lombardi told Bloodhorse.com.
The homebred Firenze Fire is the 4-1 third choice in a field of nine that features six grade 1 winners and mind-boggling combined lifetime earnings of more than $25 million.
“It’s exciting any time you get horses together like this,” two-time Triple Crown winner Bob Baffert, who trains McKinzie, told NYRA publicity. “It’s a great race. A lot of them in the field worry me.”
Conversely, others in the field are quite worried about McKinzie, the 5-2 morning-line favorite and 124-pound co-highweight.
With six wins and three seconds in 10 starts, McKinzie is coming off a sharp 4 3/4-length victory in the May 3 Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs. The Alysheba was contested at 1 1/16 miles around two turns, the type of trip the multiple grade 1 winner has faced in eight of his starts entering Saturday’s imposing one-turn assignment.
Baffert, who will spend Saturday in California to celebrate the graduation of his son, Bode, and will leave the saddling duties to long-time lieutenant Jimmy Barnes, was not thrilled with landing post 2, marking the third straight time the son of Street Sense has landed either post 1 or 2.
“I wasn’t happy with the draw. He’s had a lot of bad luck with the draws, either the 1 post or the 2. He always seems to draw bad,” said Baffert, who won the 2017 Met Mile with Mor Spirit. “But he’s there, and there’s no turning back. I was hoping for an outside draw so he can get rolling. Mike said he’ll like those big sweeping turns.”
Bred by Darley, the son of Helmet, Thunder Snow made it back-to-back wins in the Dubai World Cup in his most recent start, winning by a nose over Gronkowski.
The 124-pound co-highweight with McKinzie, Thunder Snow is a bit less familiar with the one-turn distance than Baffert’s runner. His past seven races have been at 1 1/4 miles or more.
“This is a good place to start for him,” trainer Saeed bin Suroor commented to bloodhorse.com. “He is ready to run. He will have an American campaign, and we want to get him started. The Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) is the goal again this year.”
Thunder Snow was second in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill during his 2018 season.
While 5-year-old Thunder Snow raced successful at a mile earlier in his career, the eight furlongs is uncharted territory for the fleet Mitole.
Owned by William and Corinne Heiligbrodt and trained by Steve Asmussen, Mitole is a brilliant sprinter. The son of Eskendereyahas six straight wins by a combined margin of nearly 33 lengths, but his latest start, a 3 1/2-length score in the seven-furlong Churchill Downs Stakes marked the frontrunning 4-year-old’s first race longer than six furlongs.