Five Key Takeaways from Runhappy Met Mile Day at Belmont

Vekoma won the Runhappy Met Mile impressively on Saturday. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the $500,000 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park and other developments during the Fourth of July weekend.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Vekoma secured an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint when he won the June 6 Runhappy Carter Handicap at seven furlongs for his first Grade 1 victory. He gave his connections another option when he notched a second consecutive Grade 1 triumph, in the Met Mile. The latter secured an expense-paid slot in the Dirt Mile. Trainer George Weaver welcomes the luxury to pick and choose. “It seems like he’d be kind of good at both,” Weaver said. “With his ability to stretch his speed, at this point I would say the Breeders’ Cup Mile would probably be the more likely target based on what I’ve seen so far.”

CHANGE OF PLANS: Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano anticipated having Vekoma sit off the pace in the Met Mile. His mount had other ideas. The 4-year-old son of Candy Ride broke so sharply from post two that Castellano immediately changed gears. “You never know in this game. Sometimes you handicap the race and then you have to throw it out when you break out of the gate,” said Castellano, adding, “He broke so well, I didn’t want to take it away. I used my best judgment to dictate the pace and it paid off.”

NOT THEIR DAY:  Mike Smith rode favored McKinzie with a high level of confidence in the Met Mile – only to find that faith was misplaced. Smith allowed his mount to settle mid-pack in the field of eight, then asked for what is typically an overpowering burst at the top of the stretch. “He kicked to them really nice,” Smith said. “I thought, ‘Once he switches leads, he’s gone.’ He turned over to his right lead and he just kind of stayed the same. I didn’t get that punch that I needed.” Smith was inclined to throw out the result as one that defied explanation. “I’ve ridden him so many times,” he said, “I know he’s got more than that.”

ONE TO WATCH: When Network Effect was a 3-year-old, trainer Chad Brown thought the Mark Valeski colt might be a factor in the Triple Crown races only to endure the disappointment of not having him make any of the spring classics. He kept faith in Network Effect and now the horse shows every sign of blossoming at 4. “He’s getting bigger and stronger,” Brown said. “Now that he’s farther into his career, he’s really identified himself as a one-turn horse.” Network Effect placed second to the burner Vekoma in the June 6 Carter Handicap and backed up that effort with another runner-up performance to him in the Met Mile.

COMEBACK TRAIL: Monomoy Girl put in her final work leading to the $150,000 Ruffian on July 11 at Belmont Park, breezing four furlongs in 49.32 seconds at muddy Belmont this past Saturday with Castellano aboard. The 5-year-old Tapizar mare worked in company with multiple stakes winner A Bit of Both for trainer Brad Cox. “Even at the beginning when we started galloping, she was splashing nice and smooth in a good rhythm, good balance and good mind,” Castellano said. “These types of horses, they do that.” The Ruffian will represent Monomoy Girl’s first graded stakes try since she won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November, 2018. She missed all of last season before launching her comeback with a decisive allowance victory at Churchill Downs on May 16. She will be ridden by Florent Geroux in the Ruffian.

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