National Treasure Resolute in G1 Met Mile

June 8, 2024

National Treasure (Joe Labozetta)

By Brian Bohl

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – National Treasure put in a performance worthy of preservation in the National Archives on Saturday, surging to the front and drawing away in the stretch for a dominant 6 1/4-length gate-to-wire victory in the Grade 1, $1 million Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap for 3-year-olds and up on the Saratoga Race Course main track.

The 131st running of the prestigious race known as the Met Mile, one of three races worth at least $1 million on the Belmont Stakes Day card highlighted by the Grade 1, $2 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, saw National Treasure notch his second Grade 1 win of his 4-year-old campaign for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The victory earned an automatic entry to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November at Del Mar, providing National Treasure with another opportunity in the race in which he ran second by a nose to Cody’s Wish in last year’s edition at Santa Anita Park.

Flavien Prat sent National Treasure to the front from post 2, serving as the pacesetter with the John Velazquez-piloted Hoist the Gold in hot pursuit through the opening quarter-mile in 23.52 seconds and the half in 45.75 over the fast track. Into the stretch, National Treasure quickly dispelled any notions of a come-from-behind flourish from the field, powering to the wire in a final time of 1:35.12.

Post Time, trained by Brittany Russell and ridden by her husband Sheldon Russell, made a good account of himself in besting Hoist the Gold by a neck for second. Castle Chaos, White Abarrio and Blazing Sevens completed the order of finish.

The 6-5 favorite, National Treasure returned $4.70 on a $2 win wager. The 4-year-old Quality Road colt, owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital and Catherine Donovan, entered off a fourth-place finish in the Group 1 Saudi Cup in February. With the benefit of a three-month respite, National Treasure looked fresh and showed the form that resulted in a campaign-starting victory in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January at Gulfstream Park.

“He’s a good horse and in his last couple works, he tipped me off that, ‘Hey, I’m back,’” Baffert said. “I’m proud of the horse. When he shows up, he’s super. I’m proud of him and my team.”

Baffert, whose lone previous Met Mile win came with Mor Spirit in 2017, said he was impressed with his charge. The 2023 Grade 1 Preakness winner improved to 4-2-2 in 13 career starts with earnings of $5.37 million.

“I talked to Prat about it [past pressure] earlier and I knew Johnny’s horse would be pressure, but we’ve learned about this horse that you have to let him run,” Baffert said. “That’s his weapon – his speed – and if you take it away from him, he won’t run well. That’s just him. Sometimes, you just have to go for broke.”

National Treasure’s previous appearance at Saratoga came in a fifth-place finish in last year’s Grade 1 Travers. A return engagement for another historic race at the Spa, the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney for 4-year-olds and up on August 3, could be in contention now.

“If he tips me off, it’s very possible,” Baffert said of the “Win and You’re In” for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Prat earned his second Met Mile win in three runnings, following a victory aboard Flightline in 2022.

“The first part, I had to keep him engaged,” Prat said regarding National Treasure. “But then once I got down the backside, it felt like I was going to be able to get away from Johnny. Then after that, when I tightened my rein, he just went on.

“He has always shown talent,” Prat added. “There’s one thing about him is he always shows up and runs his race. It was a great run today.”

Hillwood Stable’s Post Time, a 4-year-old Maryland-bred son of 2016 Met Mile winner Frosted, maintained his streak of finishing third or better in all 11 of his starts, including eight victories.

“That was awesome. We are over the moon,” Brittany Russell said. “He showed up [and] he ran big. National Treasure ran a huge race. To run second behind him, that’s success for us. These good horses, do you really think they’re coming back? I mean you hope and pray, but you just hope your horse keeps running on and he did just that. There was a point where you could see Sheldon was letting him travel and he had to keep him where he had him. That was where he had to be today.”

Hoist the Gold, conditioned by Dallas Stewart and ridden by Hall of Famer Velazquez, was fourth in the Pegasus World Cup. With his third in the Met Mile, the 5-year-old son of Mineshaft earned black type for the first time since winning the Grade 2 Cigar Mile presented by NYRA Bets in December at Aqueduct Racetrack.

“That’s his style. Broke OK. Kept him in without taking too much hold of him and kept him interested in the race,” Velazquez said. “I don’t think he would’ve won, but if he stayed straight, he probably would’ve finished second. He just gave me a hard time down the lane.”

Live racing resumes Sunday at Saratoga for Closing Day of the four-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival that kicks off with the Grade 1 Beverly R. Steinman Hurdle Handicap in Race 1 before the New York Showcase Day program begins with six state-bred stakes worth $900,000, headlined by a pair of nine-furlong $200,000 contests for 3-year-olds and up in the Commentator and the Critical Eye for fillies and mares. First post on the 12-race card is 12:50 p.m. Eastern.

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