The horse Seattle Slew nearly scared out of the race won the $110,300 Metropolitan Handicap yesterday.
Cox's Ridge, carrying high weight of 130 pounds, stormed from last place - 15 lengths off the early pace - to capture the opening event in the Handicap Triple Crown series by three-quarters of a length over Buckfinder. Quiet Little Table finished third in the field of nine, a half-length behind the runner-up after briefly gaining the lead on the stretch turn.
The performance by Cox's Ridge was most impressive. Backed down to a 2-to-1 favorite by the holiday crowd of 41,956 at Belmond Park, the 4-year-old colt completed the mile in 1:34 3/5 the hard way, swinging six horses wide into the home lane. Yet he was very much in command through the final yards.
"I don't know if we'll run in the Metropolitan or not," trainer Joe Cantey had said early last week. That was beford (1) Seattle Slew suffered a leg injury and was forced out of the race, and (2) Cox's Ridge worked five furlongs in a smart :59 4/5 Tuesday morning.
Cox's Ridge had only recently returned from Hollywood Park, where his string of seven straight victories was snapped by J. O. Tobin in the Californian Stakes.
After the Met, Cantey was quick to stress that the workout, not Seattle Slew's defection, was the important consideration in Cox's Ridge being entered.
"I hadn't expected him to snap back that fast from the trip out and back to the coast," the trainer remarked. "The work prompted us to make the decision before we knew Seattle Slew was out."
Certainly Cox's Ridge should not be terrified by the thought of stepping onto the same race track with Seattle Slew some day. This big (17 hands), bay son of Best Turn picked up where Slew left off last year, emerging as the nation's best 3-year-old in the fall after the Triple Crown hero went to the sidelines with a respiratory condition.
"You've been reading in the papers where my horse hasn't been beating much," Cantey said. "Well, today he beat a good field, with his weight up (assigned one punt more than Seattle Slew). He just ran his normal race. Eddie Maple kept him out of trouble. With all that weight, you don't want him stopped once he's started making his run, especially in a mile race.
"A mile," the trainer added, "isn't Cox's Ridge best distance. I think he's better suited for a mile and a quarter, maybe."
Cox's Ridge will have an opportunity to prove that here July 4 in the Suburban Handicap. The Brooklyn Handicap, which completes the HTC series July 22, is decided over a mile and a half.
It was Cantey's thinking, initially, to pass the Met Mile in favor of the two longer events. The mile, he thought, was right down Seattle Slew's alley.
Now, with perhaps the toughest of the three races behind him, Cox's Ridge bids to join Whisk Broom II, Tom Fool and Kelso as the only thoroughbreds to sweep the series.
"Weight will be the problem," Cantey observed. "Forego never won this series in three tries because of the weights he had to carry, and Forego is one of the best handicap horses I've ever seen."