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Met Mile Preview: Sharp Azteca Back from Dubai

Leslie Martin/Coglianese Photo

Led by Michael Lund Petersen’s Grade 1 winner Mor Spirit, nine graded stakes winners are among a dozen older horses set to contest a competitive edition of the Grade 1, $1.2 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap on Saturday at Belmont Park.

The 124th running of the Met Mile for 3-year-olds and up is one of nine graded stakes and the second-richest on a 13-race program highlighted by the 149th renewal of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.

It is carded as Race 9 (4:41 p.m.) and will be part of the NBC Sports Network national broadcast from 3-5 p.m. NBC picks up the coverage from 5-7 p.m., capped by the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion,” which has a post time of 6:37 p.m.

The Met Mile is a “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on November 3 at Del Mar. It is the second leg of a $1.5 million guaranteed all-Grade 1 Pick 4 that also includes the $700,000 Just a Game, the $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan, and is anchored by the Belmont.

Top Choice

#5 Sharp Azteca – He returns from Dubai World Cup day, where he should have won the Godolphin Mile if not for a poor ride. Pace Lopez picks up the mount now, which many people will see as a positive. This is the best horse; it will just depend on how he comes back from that long Dubai trip. His 2017 debut was too good to be ignored, and trainer Jorge Navarro won big races in New York before with Private Zone. Hopefully, he shows up with his “A” game.

Belmont Stakes Wagering Guide

Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers

#9 Mor Spirit – When Bob Baffert ships in, you have to pay attention, no matter what track it is, but some of the fields that Mor Spirit’s beaten this year were questionable. Two races back, he beat a lackluster Essex Handicap field at Oaklawn, and last time out, it was an even weaker field at Lone Star Park. He certainly has a shot here, but does he really deserve to be the favorite? I had a hard time putting him on top based on the short price because this will be the best field that he’s faced this year.

#11 Tommy Macho – He’s a solid horse whose best effort can win this one. His breakthrough win in an allowance on the 2015 Belmont Stakes undercard was an eye-opener, but it’s fair to say that his best races have come at Gulfstream Park. He’s going to need to progress a little bit off of his two recent efforts, but if he can get back to the race that he ran in his 2017 debut, then he’ll have a shot. He’s worth a shot on your Pick 4 tickets with these connections.

#8 Tom’s Ready – You have to use this sneaky horse here at 15-1. A year ago, he ran the best race of his life in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens over this track and won going away. With a hot pace expected, he could get a similar setup here; he’ll sit back and make one run. Last time out, he ran a very solid race at 7 furlongs in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes, so the extra furlong should be to his liking, plus we know he knocked the rust off with that last race. Dallas Stewart is sneaky in this spot.

#2 Rally Cry – I hate the morning line of 5-1 here and hope that he gets better value. I have always liked this horse, who showed some promise as a 3-year-old but never lived up to his full potential. This year, he looks to have come back ready to roll. His speed figure last out can match up with any horse in this race. I’m not thrilled with his inside post because I think it will force his hand early, but I do think he’s talented enough to give this a serious shot. He needs to be better value, though, as this is easily the toughest race that he’s ever tried to tackle.

Exotic Plays

#12 Awesome Slew – Very consistent throughout his career, he probably should have been in the “Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers” category, but I don’t have enough confidence in him to win. He’s a great underneath horse, and he’s proven that over and over again when running in the bigger races. He’s a very honest horse that brings it every time, and in a way, he reminds me a lot of Lookin At Lee, who is running in the Belmont Stakes. Unfortunately, this outside draw doesn’t do him many favors.

#6 Mohaymen – He will always spark some interests because of his solid races at 2 and the good start to his 3-year-old year, but he hasn’t won since the Fountain of Youth last February. Not only that, he hasn’t even hit the board in his last five starts. Don’t support him to win until he proves that he can get back to form. His only start this year was a 14-length loss to Connect in the Grade 3 Westchester last out. He put in a decent workout leading up to this, so maybe he’ll improve.

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Party Crashers

#10 Virtual Machine – Everyone felt as though Connect would be the favorite for this race, but he had to be scratched due to injury. Why not take a shot with the horse that finished second to him last time out? The price is definitely right (30-1) to take a shot, and look at his record this season. He broke his maiden by 8 1/2 lengths, won an allowance by 9 1/2 lengths, then lost to Connect in the Westchester by 4 1/2 lengths. The resume is good enough to take a shot at this inflated price.

Throw Outs

#3 Denman’s Call – He won the Grade 1 Triple Bend impressively two races back, but other than that, he hasn’t run a race that can compete with the top-notch horses here. He now stretches out to a mile, too, which is a question mark.

#4 Solid Wager – Solid horse is a bit overmatched in this spot. He ran a solid race last out at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard, but he was still fourth.

#7 Economic Model – After his second-place finish in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop, I was very high on this horse, but he’s disappointed since in three straight races. He’ll need a major turn-around to win here, but he does have trainer Chad Brown on his side.  

#1 Inside Straight – He was a surprise winner of the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap last time out, but this race is going to be a major step up. Him winning here would be a huge surprise.

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