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Bribon outduels Smooth Air in Shadwell Met Mile

ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainers Robert Ribaudo and Bennie Stutts Jr. are based in New York and Florida, respectively, but the two have plenty in common. They operate low-key stables, they are respected for their skill and management of horses and, after years of hard work, finally have horses that can compete in the country’s biggest races.

Monday afternoon, before 10,099 fans on Memorial Day at Belmont Park, their paths finally crossed in the 116th running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Shadwell Metropolitan Handicap. And both were ready for the meeting.

Ranking among the more exciting recent runnings of the Met Mile, the Ribaudo-trained Bribon (FR) outdueled Stutts’s stubborn Smooth Air in late stretch for a half-length victory in 1:34.15 on the fast track. Driven by Success, who reluctantly gave up the lead after setting a demanding pace of 22.70, 45.20, 1:08.55, added to the class of the race as he managed to hold third by a nose over My Pal Charlie.

It was the first Grade 1 dirt victory for Ribaudo, who got his first Grade 1 win on turf in Saratoga’s Sword Dancer Invitational with Grand Couturier in 2007 and then repeated the feat last year. This was the second consecutive Met Mile win for jockey Alan Garcia, who won this race last year with Divine Park.

“I had a good trip all the way around,” said Garcia, as Bribon returned $8.30 to win. “I didn’t want to be too far back. At the quarter-pole, my horse put his head down and ran. I’m happy to win my second Met Mile in a row!”

The victory was the eighth in 27 starts for Bribon, a 6-year-old Mark of Esteem gelding who finally shook off a reputation for not putting two good efforts back to back. He won the Grade 3 Westchester here on Opening Day, April 29 and apparently has earned a rest as well.

“There was no reason not to run him,” Ribaudo said. “The horse was doing good, this was the logical spot to run him and it’s a credit to the horse.”

It was also a credit to Ribaudo, who has learned to let Bribon run his race his way. Bribon made a strong sweeping outside move coming off the turn, hooked up with Smooth Air and the race was on.

“Everybody likes to save ground and come through, but this horse has run all his races circuit (sic),” Ribaudo said. “You know it might not be the best way, or the shortest way home, but he’s very comfortable doing that and it worked out great today.

Mount Joy Stable’s Smooth Air put in a strong showing in his New York debut for his 71-year-old trainer. The Met Mile was his first start since March 14, when he won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. Stutts had hoped to run him at Lone Star in the Grade 3 Texas Mile on April 25, but Smooth Air developed colic two days before the race.

“He tries hard every time, and now he is a millionaire,” Stutts said. “I just wish I could have gotten that race into him in Texas. If he had another race under his belt, I really think he would have won today.”

Although he came up short in the Met Mile, the 4-year-old Smooth Jazz colt earned $120,000, pushing him over $1 million in career earnings. His record now reads 6-4-3 from 15 starts.

Riley Tucker was fifth, followed by Runforthedoe (BRZ), Ready’s Echo, Imperial Council, Famous Patriot, The Roundhouse, Mr. Sidney and Accredit.

Mr. Fantasy was scratched because of a fever he developed on Sunday.

Although he ran seventh, Let’s Go Stable’s Ready’s Echo was selected as the winner of Shadwell’s “Best Turned Out Horse” for the Shadwell Metropolitan Handicap. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the four-year-old More Than Ready colt earned groom Martine Estrada a $500 award. The selection was made by Gregory Clarke, Shadwell Farm manager.


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