Cash is King and LC Racing’s Mischevious Alex will look to build on his already impressive ledger in Saturday’s stallion-making Grade 1, $1 million Hill ‘N’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap, a one-turn mile for 3-year-olds and up on Belmont Stakes Day.
The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival runs from Thursday through Saturday, June 5, culminating with the 153rd running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets. The festival will encompass 17 total stakes, including eight Grade 1s on Belmont Stakes Day, capped by the “Test of the Champion” for 3-year-olds in the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the Triple Crown. First post on Belmont Stakes Day is 11:35 a.m. Eastern.
Trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. said Mischevious Alex, who garnered a career-best 109 Beyer Speed Figure last out for winning the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 3 at Aqueduct Racetrack, is a force to be reckoned with at sprint distances, but will need a top performance to have his picture taken in the Met Mile, which offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November at Del Mar.
“In my opinion, he’s the leader of the sprint division, but we run a mile this time, so it’s going to be a big test,” said Joseph, Jr. “This is the time to try it and if he’s able to accomplish it, it will be a great thing for his resume as a stallion.”
Last year, the 4-year-old Into Mischief colt captured the seven-furlong Grade 3 Swale at Gulfstream ahead of a prominent two-length win in the Grade 3 Gotham, travelling a one-turn mile at the Big A for former conditioner John Servis.
Joseph, Jr. said the Gotham result gives him confidence that Mischevious Alex is up to the task after starting his season 3-for-3 with six-furlong wins in an optional claimer and the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint at the Hallandale Beach oval ahead of the Carter coup.
“He’s won a one-turn mile already. He won the Gotham before we had him,” said Joseph, Jr. “So, we know he can get the mile, the question will be if he can get the mile against top-class company.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” continued Joseph, Jr. “He’s lethal at six or seven furlongs because he can make the lead or sit if he needs to. At a mile, I feel it’s within his reach and he’s capable of it, so we’ll give it a try. The way he won last time gives you optimism, but he has to go over and do it to make me a believer.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr., who leads the Belmont spring/summer meet with 34 wins, retains the mount from the inside post.
Korea Racing Authority’s Knicks Go, trained by reigning Eclipse Award-winner Brad Cox, looms the one to beat as the 126 pound highweight with an impressive record of 19-6-3-1 with purse earnings in excess of $4.5 million.
The pacesetting 5-year-old son of Paynter enjoyed a perfect 3-for-3 campaign in 2020, culminating with a win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile that registered a career-best 108 Beyer.
Bred in Maryland by Angie Moore, the striking grey horse matched his impressive figure in his seasonal debut with a 2 3/4-length score in the nine-furlong Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January at Gulfstream Park.
Last out, Knicks Go faded to fourth in the $20 million nine-furlong Saudi Cup on February 20 at King Abdulaziz Racecourse.
Cox said he intended to enter the horse in the Grade 3 Sexton Mile held Monday at Lone Star, but called an audible with Knicks Go, who breezed a bullet five-eighths in 59.80 seconds on Sunday at Churchill Downs.
“We had to contend with a trip to the Middle East and back. He seemed to recover really well. We were pointing him for the race at Lone Star in the Sexton Mile but with the defection of Charlatan, it gave us enough confidence to put our name in the hat for the Met Mile,” said Cox. “I think this will be a good experience for the horse. He breezed extremely well Sunday and had a huge gallop out. I feel like we’re in a good spot with him and going the right way.”
While his rival Mischevious Alex will be concerned about the stretch out, Cox said he has some concerns about the one-turn mile on Big Sandy.
“Outside of Saudi, I haven’t really gone one turn with him, so it’ll be interesting to see because it’s a little bit of a question mark,” said Cox. “But he’s won going five-eighths as a 2-year-old, so if the race sets up, I feel confident we can get a good trip and be effective.”
Joel Rosario retains the mount from the outermost post 6.
Dr Post, trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher for St. Elias Stable, hit the board in consecutive nine-furlong Grade 1s last summer when second to Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes and third in the Haskell won by Authentic by a nose over Ny Traffic at Monmouth Park.
A $400,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, Dr Post launched his 4-year-old campaign with a prominent score in the Grade 3 Westchester traveling a one-turn mile at Belmont on May 1 that garnered a career-best 103 Beyer.
Pletcher said the colt would appreciate a target after being closer to the pace than usual last out.
“It wasn’t a very quickly run race. He wasn’t any faster earlier on that usual,” said Pletcher of the Westchester score. “I think he would benefit from a contested pace and sit mid-pack. That’s his preferred running style.”
Pletcher is a two-time Met Mile winner with Palace Malice  and Quality Road , the sire of Dr Post.
“He’s always physically reminded us of Quality Road. Like a lot of good Quality Road progeny, he seems to be stamped by his sire,” said Pletcher. “He’s a good-training horse and always has been very straightforward and professional. I like the way he ran off the layoff and hopefully he makes another move forward. I’m happy with him.”
Hall of Famer John Velazquez has the call aboard Dr Post from post 2.
Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing’s Silver State, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, brings a five-race win streak into Saturday’s test after making the grade last out in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on April 17.
A $450,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, the 4-year-old Hard Spun colt is out of the stakes-winning Empire Maker mare Supreme. Silver State has blossomed at Oaklawn this campaign, winning the one-mile Fifth Season in January and the 1 1/16-mile Essex Handicap in March.
Asmussen and jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., who teamed up to win the Met Mile back-to-back in 2018-19 with Bee Jersey and Mitole, will look for continued success when the improving bay exits post 3.
Allied Racing Stable and Spendthrift Farm’s By My Standards is a four-time Grade 2-winner with nine-furlong scores in the 2019 Louisiana Derby, 2020 New Orleans Classic, and 2020 Oaklawn Handicap, as well as a victory in the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba in September at Churchill Downs.
A seven-time winner from 15 starts with purse earnings in excess of $2 million, By My Standards will look for his first Grade 1 score following a narrow nose win in his seasonal debut in the Oaklawn Mile on April 10.
Trained by Bret Calhoun, the Kentucky-bred son of Goldencents will exit post 5 under Gabriel Saez.
Calumet Farm homebred Lexitonian, a 5-year-old son of Speightstown trained by Jack Sisterson, will look to provide his owner their second Met Mile following Criminal Type, who won in 1990 under Jose Santos for Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
Lexitonian made the grade sprinting six furlongs in the 2019 Grade 3 Chick Lang at Pimlico. He tried his luck in a pair of Grade 1 events last year, rallying from last-of-eight to finish second, by a nose, to Collusion Illusion in the six-furlong Bing Crosby at Del Mar, which was followed by a more prominent fifth, defeated 2 1/2-lengths to Win Win Win in a sloppy renewal of the Forego at Saratoga.
“He’s a funny sort of horse. We think we have him figured out and then he throws us a curveball,” said Sisterson. “The plan in the Bing Crosby wasn’t to take back and make one run, they just went that quick up front. It was a brutal loss.”
Last month, Sisterson completed a personal NYRA Grade 1 triple when Channel Cat captured the Man o’ War at Belmont, adding to top-flight wins by True Timber in the Cigar Mile Handicap in December at the Big A and Vexatious’ upset win in the Personal Ensign in August at the Spa.
Lexitonian finished second, by a head to Flagstaff, last out in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs on May 1 in a blanket finish when a nose better than third-place Whitmore, the reigning Champion Male Sprinter.
With regular pilot Tyler Gaffalione up, Lexitonian tracked in fourth position, just 1 1/2-lengths off a swift half-mile of 44.21 set by Bango, in the seven-furlong sprint before digging in down the lane to just miss.
Sisterson said he expects another forward trip for Lexitonian.
“Tyler said to me in the paddock at Churchill that he was going to put him in the race. He felt his best running style is forwardly placed,” said Sisterson. “He’s a horse that’s never going to win by five or 10 lengths. He works in the mornings to the level of his workmate. He’s never going to work in 59 and change, his last work was in 1:02. I think Tyler will ride him forwardly placed. I always think if a horse has speed, why take that away from him.”
Gaffalione will guide Lexitonian from post 4.
The Met Mile is slated as Race 9 on Saturday’s 13-race card.
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Photo: Mischevious Alex, (NYRA/ AC Photo)