Low weight spread could drag down Bolt d'Oro's chances in Met Mile
Aside from select spots like the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), there appears to be a larger enthusiasm gap of running accomplished three-year-olds against older males at a mile or over on dirt during the course of the year as in decades past.
The Metropolitan H. (G1), which will be run Saturday as part of the Belmont Stakes (G1) undercard, used to attract really good three-year-olds. Some, like Sword Dancer, Arts and Letters, Conquistador Cielo, and Holy Bull, spruced up their Horse of the Year resumes with wins in the one-mile fixture.
On Saturday, Bolt d'Oro will look to add his name to that imposing list of luminaries, but the Mick Ruis trainee has some things working against him to become the first sophomore to take the race since 1996.
The Metropolitan is one of the last remaining Grade 1 dirt races for older horses run as a handicap, or what passes for a handicap these days. Three-year-olds competing in it thus can't be expected to get an adequate weight concession, or any concession, from every older horse in the field. At the very least, though, the spread between the best three-year-old and the best older horse in the race should arguably come close to reflecting what the spread would be in a weight-for-age event.
In the days when the Met Mile was run on Memorial Day or thereabouts, the Jockey Club scale of weights required that three-year-olds (113) receive 14 pounds from older horses (127). Since the race has shifted to June, the spread between three-year-olds (115) and older (126) at a mile should be 11 pounds.
Sword Dancer and Conquistador Cielo faced relatively weak fields winning the Met Mile, thus conceded significant weight on the scale when carrying 114 and 111 pounds, respectively. The spread between Sword Dancer and the highest weighted older horse was eight pounds, while Conquistador Cielo's spread was nine pounds. Holy Bull gave (112) weight on the scale, too, carrying only 10 pounds less than Devil His Due and Colonial Affair and a mere six pounds less than eventual champion sprinter Cherokee Run.
Generally, however, more generous spreads have been beneficial to three-year-olds. Arts and Letters (111) got 18 pounds from dual champion Nodouble, Gulch (110) got 18 pounds from Broad Brush and 11 from runner-up King's Swan, and Dixie Brass (107) got 14 pounds from In Excess and 12 from eventual champion Pleasant Tap. Honour and Glory (110), the last three-year-old to win, got 12 and 13 pounds from the dead-heating place getters.
Sometimes the concession isn't quite enough. Housebuster (113), a future dual champion sprinter, beat Easy Goer to the wire in the 1990 Met Mile while getting 14 pounds from that rival, but lost the race to Criminal Type, the eventual Horse of the Year who had just won the Pimlico Special (G1), to whom he was getting only seven pounds.
The point of this history lesson is that weight can be a crucial factor for a three-year-old running in this particular race. Unfortunately for Bolt d'Oro, who has been assigned 114 pounds, the spread between him and top weight Mind Your Biscuits is only eight pounds, and obviously far less to some decent older horses.
Compared to decades past, many jockeys are unable to make less than 114 pounds, so the actual weight Bolt d'Oro was assigned is perhaps, in part, a reflection of of a rising scale. That's well and good for the general health of all riders, but that doesn't mean the spread between three-year-olds and older horses in a race like the Met Mile should be sacrificed. It's astounding that, besides certain weight-for-age races like those previously mentioned, older horses are rarely asked to carry 126 pounds more than once or twice a year.
Kudos to Bolt d'Oro if he happens to overcome Saturday's negative spread. However, it's more likely that the results will prove a continuing deterrent to horsemen thinking of running a three-year-old in this race again in the immediate future, which hasn't necessarily been a positive development in the last couple of decades.
From the keyboard of a long-time proponent of handicaps, it seems the time has now come for the adoption of true weight-for-age conditions for the Met Mile, thus removing an increasingly burdensome barrier for three-year-old participants while simultaneously ending the mockery of what's left of the handicap system. In fact, it should be a universal requirement for all graded stakes run in the U.S.