William and Corinne Heiligbrodt's Mitole proved in his last start that he could stretch his speed to seven furlongs, and this Saturday he stretched it even farther to win a talent-laden edition of the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old Eskendereya colt and Ricardo Santana were sent to post at 7-2, rated behind Coal Front early and were able to hold off the late charge of 8-5 favorite McKinzie by three-quarters of a length at the finish. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Mitole completed the mile over the fast main track in 1:32.75, just two one-hundredths shy of the Met Mile record set by Frosted in his 14 1/4-length romp back in 2016.
“This win with this horse is so special,” said Asmussen, who won last year's edition of the race with the now-retired Bee Jersey. “I'm thrilled for the Heiligbrodts, who have so much to do with the success that we have. Winning back-to-back editions of the Met Mile, I can't even put into words what this means. Today is what we had targeted. We know what this race meant; what a tremendous field it had. For him to come out on top against this field today under the pressure that he had, he proved what we believed in him the whole time. We're just so fortunate to be associated with this horse.”
Mitole's victory earns him an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile this fall at Santa Anita.
“He's obviously a very special horse,” continued the trainer. “To beat the horses that were second and third obviously speaks for itself. To come out on top today, we are extremely proud of him. We will love on him and pet on him for a while, enjoy the victory and then regroup and decide what to do with him the rest of the year.”
Promises Fulfilled stumbled at the start, essentially giving up the lead to the inside-drawn Coal Front down the Belmont backstretch. Santana took advantage and kept Mitole in close striking range in second, while Promises Fulfilled rushed up into contention in third under a firm hold from jockey Luis Saez.
Prince Lucky was also near the pace, while Thunder Snow lingered down near the rail in fifth position early on. Meanwhile, favorite McKinzie was second-last of the field, nearly eight lengths off the front-running Coal Front.
The pace was quick but not overly so for this group, with Coal Front leading through fractions of :22.17 and :44.38 before Mitole began to inch into his lead from the two-path. Approaching the straight, Mitole had put his head in front and was beginning to pull away from Coal Front as he changed leads.
Thunder Snow was behind a wall of horses at the top of the stretch, and Christophe Soumillon couldn't find a place for the two-time Dubai World Cup winner to show off his turn of foot. He initially leaned out to try to send Thunder Snow between horses, but the horse balked, and so he swung him back against the rail. Mike Smith was having a similar problem nearer the back of the pack with McKinzie, but also found room to run down near the inside in the final eighth of a mile.
“We had a little traffic trouble and if he could have gone right instead of left, that would have been the way to go,” said Jimmy Barnes, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert (McKinzie). “It's up to Mike [Smith] to make the right decisions. The horse showed up and he ran well. Credit to Steve Asmussen. His horse ran lights out, and ours did too.”
Mitole had a 1 1/2-length advantage in mid-stretch but Thunder Snow and McKinzie were cutting into it with every stride. Santana asked his mount for just a bit more and was able to hit the wire three-quarters of a length ahead of the hard-charging McKinzie. Thunder Snow looked to flatten out just a bit in the final 50 yards and was defeated a neck for the place, while Promises Fulfilled was another 3 1/4 lengths back in fourth. Firenze Fire, Pavel, Coal Front, Tale of Silence and Prince Lucky completed the order of finish.
“This is really a special horse,” Santana said. “I can't explain how happy I am with this horse. He can come [from the] back, he can go in front, you can put him between horses and he always keeps trying his best. Today, we delayed as long as we can. He's a really amazing horse.”
Bred in Kentucky by Edward A. Cox, Jr., Mitole is out of the placed Indian Charlie mare Indian Miss. He was a $20,000 yearling at the Keeneland September sale and brought $140,000 as a 2-year-old at OBS April. Mitole has now won his last seven races in a row and has never finished off the board in 11 career starts, winning eight overall. His earnings after the Met Mile stand at over $1.7 million.
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