The word has been out since last year that Mitole had the potential to be an elite thoroughbred. What he did Saturday proved he is.
The 4-year-old son of Eskenderaya dueled with Coal Front through a blazing half-mile of 44.38 seconds before kicking clear in midstretch to take the prestigious, $1.2 million Met Mile on the Belmont Stakes undercard. He was three-quarters of a length clear of fast-finishing McKinzie, trainer Bob Baffert's 7-5 favorite who had traffic trouble. Thunder Snow, the two-time winner of the Dubai World Cup, was a neck farther back after making a strong late move.
It was the second consecutive Met Mile victory for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Ricardo Santana, who high-fived after watching the replay on the big screen in the infield. The Midwest-based duo won it last year with Bee Jersey.
“Ricardo has had such an important role in the success this horse has had,” said Asmussen, 53, who is second all-time with more than 8,455 wins.
Mitole never had run beyond 6 furlongs or in a Grade I race until five weeks ago, when he dominated the 7-furlong Churchill Downs Handicap on Kentucky Derby day. He was so impressive that Asmussen felt confident he could handle a one-turn mile at Belmont.
“They put together a tremendous race today, and it’s so special to win the Met again,” Asmussen said. “We weren’t looking past today, this was the race we had targeted. We’re just absolutely proud of him. The horses who finished second and third speak for themselves.
“I believe this race is the showcase that we wanted it to be.”
Mitole paid $9 for his eighth win in 11 career starts and seventh in a row. He was timed in 1:32.75 on an extremely fast track that played strongly to inside speed. Earlier on the card, Midnight Bisou set a stakes record of 1:39.69 in the 1 1/16-mile Ogden Phipps and Guarana did the same by going a mile in 1:33.58 in the Acorn. Mitole earned $650,000, raising his career total to $1,642,910 for William and Corinne Heligbrodt.
Completing the order of finish were Promises Fulfilled, Firenze Fire, Pavel, Coal Front, Tale of Silence and Prince Lucky.
The Met brought together most of the country’s best sprinters and milers, and Mitole proved he’s in a different class. “He’s the kind of horse you don’t need to pressure. When you ask him, he gives you what you want,” Santana said. “He can come from the back, he can go in the front. Last year he was a rookie, but not anymore. He’s really an amazing horse.”
Trainer Chad Brown didn’t have a horse in the Belmont Stakes, but he really didn’t need one. After winning three turf stakes Friday, Brown won three more stakes Saturday, including a 1-2-3 finish in the Grade I, 1¼-mile Manhattan with heavy favorite Bricks and Mortar ($3.70), Robert Bruce and Raging Bull.