ELMONT, N.Y., MAY 28 -- Criminal Type robbed two horses of their lofty reputations as he won the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park today.
He scored by a neck over Housebuster, breaking the eight-race winning streak of the brilliantly fast 3-year-old. And he soundly defeated the overwhelming favorite, Easy Goer, who failed to deliver his usual stretch kick and came in another 1 1/2 lengths back in third -- the worst finish of his career.
Criminal Type brought solid credentials into the 98th running of this prestigious one-mile race, including having won the $1 million Pimlico Special two weeks ago. Even so, he seemingly lacked the brilliance, and certainly lacked the charisma, of his two illustrious rivals. But while the distance of this race may have been a bit too long for Housebuster and too short for Easy Goer, it turned out to be perfect for trainer Wayne Lukas's 5-year-old.
Housebuster had never raced against horses of this quality before, but he had one big tactical advantage here: He was the only horse in the field with high speed. Owner Bob Levy and trainer Jimmy Croll had made the bold move of entering the 3-year-old against his elders because they thought he would be able to control the pace. And they were right.
Housebuster popped out of the gate and jockey Craig Perret had no trouble shaking off a brief early challenge by long shot Black Tie Affair. He went to the rail and set a moderate pace -- the first quarter-mile in 22 3/5 seconds, the half-mile in :45.
Jose Santos was pushing Criminal Type vigorously, trying to stay within striking distance, but Housebuster was holding him off safely on the turn. The threat was coming from Easy Goer, who was swooping outside the field. The crowd of 32,139 let out a roar when the horse that had won 10 straight in this state made his move.
But Easy Goer didn't accelerate in the powerful fashion that has enabled him to win $4.5 million. "He didn't have the punch that I was expecting," jockey Pat Day said. Santos glanced over his shoulder, saw that the favorite wasn't gaining fast on him and said he felt confident -- "I wasn't really worried about Housebuster." The 3-year-old began to weaken in the final furlong -- his best distance is probably seven furlongs -- and Criminal Type caught him about ten yards from the wire. The winner covered the mile in 1:34 2/5.
For Housebuster, this was an honorable defeat, for he proved he belongs in a class with the country's best horses. Since 3-year-olds are entitled to a 14-pound weight concession from older horses at this time of year, and Housebuster was carrying 113 to the winner's 120, this amounted to a seven-pound weight bonus for a formidable rival. "Criminal Type got a break in the weights," Perret said, correctly. "If Easy Goer wasn't in there, I think he would have been carrying 127, and he would have got beat."
Easy Goer's performance, however, was the most disappointing of his career. He shouldn't have been bothered by his 127-pound assignment, having carried 126 to his explosive victory in last year's Belmont Stakes. Trainer Shug McGaughey acknowledged: "He just got outrun. He got flat outrun. I expected him closer in contention."
Day too was disappointed. "He didn't really have a kick. He didn't run to his capabilities. When I knuckled down on him he didn't respond. He gave me a little bit, but it wasn't the punch that he is capable of."
McGaughey said he will keep Easy Goer on the schedule he had planned at the start of the season, including a rematch with Sunday Silence in the Arlington Challenge this summer. But after today's results, that confrontation has lost some luster.