Santana bounces back to win Met Mile with Silver State

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Ricardo Santana Jr. went to bed Friday night not knowing if he would be able ride Saturday’s Belmont Stakes Day card, after a scary spill at Churchill Downs Friday left him with a swollen leg and lack of feeling in his right arm.

“I prayed to God last night that I would wake up feeling much better,” said Santana, who hit the turf hard Friday when Zippy Baby crashed through the temporary inside rail in the early stages of the fourth race at Churchill. “I prayed that he would give me the strength to ride today.”

Not only was Santana able to answer the bell, he found his way to the winner’s circle in the 128th running of the Metropolitan Handicap, rallying Silver State up the Belmont rail to beat the fast-closing By My Standards by a length. Mischevious Alex ran a game third, while 4-5 favorite Knicks Go faded to fifth after leading for 6 furlongs.

“I felt like a passenger today,” Santana said after piloting Silver State to his sixth straight win. “He’s the best he’s been. He can let you do whatever you want. He’s a smart horse.”

Santana was able to walk off the track after the spill Friday, then flew to New York later at night. He said a good friend provided medicine and ice, but he knew he would have to feel better Saturday in order to ride.

“I went to bed thinking about how I was going to feel (today),” he said. “I thank God that I feel good.”

Silver State showed how good he continues to be with his sixth straight victory dating back to an allowance race late in last year’s Keeneland fall meet. A $450,000 Keeneland September yearling, the 4-year-old son of Hard Spun found himself on the Triple Crown trail in 2020 after a sharp debut maiden win at 2 and placings in graded stakes at Fair Grounds at 3.

A seventh in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby halted any classics aspirations and he didn’t run again until the fall.

Silver State added the Met Mile to prior victories – all at Oaklawn Park – in the Fifth Season, Essex Handicap and Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. He also gave trainer Steve Asmussen his third Met Mile win in four years, along with Bee Jersey in 2018 and Mitole in 2019.

“This is a great race to have that kind of a streak in,” Asmussen said. “This horse takes a step forward with every race. The one thing you really noticed at Oaklawn is every time he went to the wire like he was trying to win.

“He’s a Met Mile winner. We built it up to this point. To be in this position today will give him the credit he deserves. That’s the great part about racing. You have to earn it. That’s what he did today. The Met Mile was our target since last fall.”

Sent off the 5-1 third choice in the field of six, Silver State and Santana raced third early while 4-5 favorite Knicks Go set a moderate pace of :23.36 and :46.31 for the opening two splits. Santana kept Silver State on the outside around the far turn before dropping to the inside to slip past the leader and 7-2 second choice Mischevious Alex.

By My Standards and jockey Gabriel Saez also made up ground from the back of the pack, but went wide heading for home. Silver State finished a length clear of By My Standards at the finish in 1:35.45, with Mischevious Alex three-quarters of a length back in third. Knicks Go faded to fourth.

“The Met Mile is an extremely significant win and one of the great races in American racing,” Asmussen said. “This is six wins in a row for him. He’s an absolutely beautiful Stonestreet bred that Ron Winchell and Mr. (Willis) Horton purchased and have campaigned. Their patience in allowing him to get to this level has been perfect.”


No doubts in Manhattan

Chad Brown leaned against the rail in the mile chute at Churchill Downs waiting to make the walkover for the Kentucky Derby with Highly Motivated while his thoughts wandered to a race a few minutes prior.

“I thought it was a bad bob, that it was either a dead-heat or I got beat,” Brown said of the finish of the Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic. “Then I said ‘I’ll take a heater, thank you Lord.’ ”

Brown did salvage a dead-heat with Klaravich Stable’s Domestic Spending, who finished on even terms with Colonel Liam in his first start in more than five months. He and jockey Flavien Prat also learned a little about the English-bred son of Kingman.

“Maybe a little further back in the field than I wanted,” Brown said after Domestic Spending rallied from next-to-last in the nine-horse field.

Domestic Spending rallied again from the rear of the field in Saturday’s Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes but left no doubt in his 2 3/4-length win over pacesetting stablemate Tribhuvan. Domestic Spending won in 1:59.08 to stay unbeaten on the season and improve to 6-for-7 overall.

“This horse has been a particular challenge,” said Brown, winning his sixth Manhattan in the last eight years. “We had to geld him after his 2-year-old year, even with that breeding, because he wouldn’t train. We had several different people on our team working with this horse, down at Stonestreet and down in Ocala. So many people have touched this horse and really worked with and got his natural ability out of him. The latest is Flavien, who is now getting along just terrific with this horse.”

“It’s really my team. They’ve done an outstanding job developing this horse. There was a point in time when he was a baby that I didn’t think we’d ever get him to the races.”

Saturday Notes: Drain The Clock, off since winning the Grade 3 Bay Shore April 3 at Aqueduct, returned with an upset victory in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens to lead off Saturday’s Belmont Day stakes program. The son of Maclean’s Music, runner-up to Greatest Honour in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth before trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. returned him to one-turn races, outfinished 6-5 favorite Jackie’s Warrior to win by a neck. Jose Ortiz picked up the winning mount after his older brother Irad was injured in a spill Friday. Drain The Clock wound up one of five winners Irad Ortiz Jr. was booked to ride Saturday, along with Search Results in the Grade 1 Acorn and Letruska in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps. Javier Castellano picked up the ride on Search Results, runner-up last time out in the Kentucky Oaks, for trainer Chad Brown. Jose Ortiz rode Letruska in the Phipps for trainer Fausto Gutierrez. … Godolphin Stable, which celebrated a win by Essential Quality in the headliner, finished 1-2 in the Grade 1 Just A Game when the Charlie Appleby-trained duo Althiqa and Summer Romance handled a strong group of American female turf runners. Mike Smith, in his lone stakes mount on the card, rode Althiqa to a three-quarter-length win over her stablemate at 7-1. … Flying P Stable’s Lone Rock won his third straight race with an 11 1/4-length win in the Grade 2 Brooklyn early on the card. The 6-year-old Majestic Warrior gelding, claimed by Robertino Diodoro for $40,000 in late November, also won for the sixth time in his last seven starts. … Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott keyed the biggest exacta of the day when sent out the 1-2 finishers in the Grade 1 Jaipur in Casa Creed and Chewing Gum. Casa Creed, the 10-1 sixth choice in the field of nine turf sprinters, topped his 28-1 stablemate by 2 lengths in 1:08.04 over the turf labeled good. The $1 exacta returned $167.75.