US racing tips: Tom Collins dissects the Grade 1 contests at Belmont Park
10.47 Belmont Park
11.20 Belmont Park
Not only do punters have the spectacle of watching the Investec Oaks and Derby on the same card at Epsom in the afternoon, they are also treated to two Grade 1 contests at Belmont Park on Saturday night.
The $500,000 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap (10.47), more commonly known as the Met Mile, headlines an 11-race card at the New York venue and it is has drawn a fantastic field.
Eight out-and-out milers are set to go head-to-head in this famous contest, which has been won by trainer Steve Asmussen and rider Ricardo Santana for the last two seasons.
Thepair aren't represented this time around but the winningmost jockey of the race, John Velazquez, has picked up the ride on Shug McGaughey's Code Of Honor, who will be tough to hold if the pacesetters go hard from the outset.
However, that doesn't necessarily look like being the case as Mr Freeze and Warrior's Charge could take the field along at steady fractionsfrom their outside draws.
That would play into the hands of likely market leader McKinzie and the selection,Vekoma, who will both sit in behind the speed and look to pounce in the straight.
Preferenceis for the latter, who may get the jump on his main market rival, is drawn perfectly in gate two outside a closer and looks a colt on a sharp upward trajectory.
Trainer George Weaver has had this race in mind for a long time with Vekoma, who returned from a long absence after he blew out in the Kentucky Derby last May to win the Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream in March.
He backed that up with a comfortable seven-and-a-quarter-lengthsuccess on a sloppy track here last month in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap and although this is a tougher test, he looks up to handling this opposition.
His chance of winning will increase if the forecast rain on Friday evening materialises.
The following $400,000 Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes (11.20) has been used as a stepping stone by trainer Chad Brown for his best middle-distanceprospectsover the last few seasons.
New York's top trainer has won this contest five times in the past eightyears with the likes of Flintshire (2016) and Bricks And Mortar (2019), and will have the favourite in this year's edition in the shape of Instilled Regard.
Althoughhis profile is attractive, I'm not convinced he is a rock-solid market leader and I prefer his stablemate Rockemperor, who will make his fifth start for the barn having moved from France last summer.
ThePrix la Force runner-up, who alsofinished sixth in the Prix du Jockey Club last year, has run with credit on all four starts for Brown without winning.
His third in last year's Belmont Derby from an unpromising position was eyecatching and he clearly hasn't had a race run to suit since.
Rockemperor has the best kick in the field and needs them go a pretty decent early gallop. With Cross Border and Channel Maker in the field, that could well happen.
His recent second (later disqualified to third) at Santa Anita was a fantastic effort and he was in front a stride before and a stride after the line, only to be done right on the bob by the talented United.
Hopefully he'll get a nice passage behind his stable companion against the rail and showcase his outstanding kick in the straight.
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