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ELMONT, NY – R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables’ Vekoma kept his perfect 2020 record intact after deploying a monster effort to win Saturday’s $500,000 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park.
The Met Mile is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with Vekoma receiving an automatic berth in the Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile at Keeneland this November. Vekoma previously earned an automatic berth in the Sprint after taking June’s 7-furlong Carter Handicap (G1) over this same course.
Breaking alertly from post 2 with Javier Castellano aboard the 9/5 co-favorite, Vekoma went straight to the lead under his own power and set the early tempo. Warrior’s Charge stalked outside within a length as Vekoma posted opening fractions of :22.73, :45.87, and 1:09.57.
At the 1/4 pole, Vekoma came under fire from Warrior’s Charge, Endorsed, and McKinzie, the other 9/5 co-favorite, but Castellano waited until Vekoma straightened out before stomping down on the gas pedal. He drifted in slightly toward the rail in mid-stretch, but he continued running sharply once he recovered and drew off untouched.
Trained by George Weaver, Vekoma crossed 1 1/2 lengths clear in a final time of 1:32.88 for the mile-long fast main track event.
“Sometimes, you handicap the race and then you have to throw it out when you break out of the gate,” Castellano said. “I made a decision and used my best judgement and I think it paid off today. They came after me at the 3/8 pole, but he’s such a great horse and such an honest horse. The further he went, the stronger he got.”
Network Effect had tip off the rail after Vekoma drifted, but he had enough of a late kick left to neck out Code of Honor, who was rallying from last but ran out of time. Another 1/2-length back came Warrior’s Charge, who held off McKinzie by a nose for fourth.
Mr Freeze, Endorsed, and Hog Creek Hustle completed the order of finish.
Vekoma’s win was his third from as many starts this year, having taken the Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park before crushing the aforementioned Carter. The 4-year-old Candy Ride colt improved his overall record to 8-6-0-1 with $1,245,525 earned.
“I was happy with our trip around the backside,” Weaver said. “I knew we had natural speed, and no one really went with us, so I was happy with the fact that he was there. At the 1/4 pole, it seemed like all comers were coming, and I thought, ‘Man, does he have anything left in the tank or not?’ When they got to the 1/8 pole and I saw him rebreak and keep going, I got excited. It was fun.”
Vekoma returned $5.90 to win, $4 to place, and $3.20 to show. Network Effect brought back $11.40 to place and $6.20 to show, while Code of Honor paid $3.30 to show.
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