Vekoma could not have been more impressive when bolting up at Belmont Park last month, so is a strong fancy to follow-up in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap there on Saturday (22:47).
Trained by George Weaver, this four-year-old Candy Ride colt has won over the mile trip of this valuable race before and further. His most recent and taking success was at the New York venue over 7f.
While Vekoma didn’t get the Kentucky Derby trip, this distance is well within him. He is two from two at Belmont Park and also beat re-opposing rival Network Effect in a Grade 3 at Aqueduct as a juvenile.
He is also 7lb better off at the weights with Code Of Honor for a 2 3/4 lengths defeat in last year’s Fountain Of Youth. The handicap favors Vekoma now.
Following an easy win in a conditions contest at Gulfstream Park on reappearance, he turned the Grade 1 Carter Handicap into a procession.
Vekoma was quickly away out of the gates and tracked the leader down the outside. He then made progress and challenged two out before hitting the front soon after.
The way in which Vekoma readily extended his advantage under Javier Castellano in the final furlong means he was value for more than the 7 1/4 lengths winning margin.
A 3lb swing in the handicap with runner-up and old rival Network Effect won’t be enough for the tables to turn. Vekoma is thus well worth backing over an extra furlong here as he is five from seven and open to the most progress.
The aforementioned Code Of Honor also has a good record at Belmont Park and has twice finished in front of Vekoma, so should give him plenty to think about.
This four-year-old Noble Mission colt stays a bit further than the mile trip of the Metropolitan Handicap. Trained by Claude McGaughey III, he has won six of his 11 starts.
They include his last three at this venue. Code Of Honor had a very productive campaign last year. After landing the Fountain Of Youth, he placed third in the Florida Derby and was runner-up in the Kentucky Derby.
Code Of Honor then cashed in on an ease in grade to land the Dwyer Stakes over course and distance. He was soon back at the highest level, however, and scored successes in the Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
A disappointing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita came at the end of a long, hard season. Code Of Honor resumed winning ways with another Grade 3 success here in June.
That leaves him spot on for a crack at the Metropolitan Handicap. As Code Of Honor gets 1lb from McKinzie, but is worse off with Vekoma, he can stil have a say in the finish.
Regular jockey John Velazquez has won this race three times since 2010, so a bold bid is assured.
Bob Baffert’s McKinzie is the clear pick of two five-year-olds in the Metropolitan Handicap. This son of Street Sense is eight from 16 career outings, but has been unlucky in races of this type.
When out of stakes company into graded handicaps, McKinzie has twice been beaten by narrow margins. That includes when he just couldn’t reach the winner and was three-quarters of a length behind Mitole in the Metropolitan Handicap last year.
McKinzie carried 8st 12lb that day and now has topweight on his back. He may be vulnerable to younger horses that are open to further progress.
Given connections, it is easy to see why oddsmakers have McKinzie as favorite. You can argue that his best form is over further than a mile, though.
As McKinzie got this trip easily as a juvenile, he is probably more effective at a longer distance. Baffert and jockey Mike Smith teamed up to win the Metropolitan Handicap in 2017 with Mor Spirit, so know what is required.
They will be out for compensation after that narrow defeat 12 months ago, but this is one occasion where McKinzie can be opposed.
If one or other of the market leaders don’t run up to form, then bottom-weight Endorsed could outrun his odds and into the frame.
The Godolphin owned four-year-old trained by William Mott is four from nine and another course winner. Endorsed was beaten 4 3/4 lengths and nearest at the finish when fourth behind Code Of Honor in the Travers Stakes.
That Grade 1 contest is off level weights. When the pair met again at this venue last time out, Endorsed only got headed in the final half-furlong by Code Of Honor but stuck to the task well and was only half-a-length behind him.
On that occasion, Code Of Honor gave 4lb away. The Metropolitan Handicap sees Endorsed receive 7lb which a further 3lb swing in his favor.
In strict handicapping terms, that gives him a chance of turning the tables. Endorsed hasn’t achieved anything like the same level of form, but gets weight all-round.
That makes him interesting in the Metropolitan Handicap. Although Endorsed must step up, his powerful owner-breeders know he has a 67 percent win and place career ratio.
Should one of his more lauded rivals under-perform, then there is each-way value about him. Endorsed may go better than his odds suggest.