ELMONT, N.Y. -- Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin thought enough of Divine Park to run him in a Grade 1 race off a nine-month layoff. While that didn't work out last December in the Malibu at Santa Anita, McLaughlin's decision to run Divine Park in another Grade 1 just 26 days off his career-best race did.
Taking advantage of a hot pace duel between even-money favorite Commentator and First Defence, Divine Park rallied from sixth to win Monday's $600,000 Metropolitan Handicap by two lengths before 12,562 at Belmont Park.
Commentator, who set a pressured pace, finished second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Lord Snowdon. It was 3 1/4 lengths back to Council Member, who was followed in the order of finish by First Defence, Z Humor, Kiss the Kid, Premium Wine, and Global Hunter.
It was the sixth victory from eight career starts for Divine Park, a 4-year-old son of Chester House owned by James Barry.
Divine Park was coming off a five-length victory in the Grade 3 Westchester Handicap here on April 30. Though Divine Park had earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 111, and McLaughlin would have preferred to have given his horse more time, he knew he had to run back in the Met because of its prestige.
Though the speedy Monterey Jazz defected from the race last week, Divine Park got the contested pace McLaughlin craved when First Defence, under Javier Castellano, went after Commentator early and often.
Under Alan Garcia, Divine Park raced in sixth position down the backside as Commentator, under John Velazquez, ran an opening quarter in 22.48 seconds, the half-mile in 44.52 seconds and six furlongs in 1:09.61, while being hounded by First Defence.
Turning for home, First Defence got in front of Commentator, but the 7-year-old Commentator battled back to take the lead and appeared to be opening up inside the eighth pole. But as Commentator grew leg weary late, Divine Park rallied past him 50 yards from the wire.
Divine Park covered the mile in 1:36.91 and returned $6.50 as the second choice.
"I thought we'd be third or fourth but it worked out well where we were," McLaughlin said. "There was kind of an empty spot there; he was by himself. He's just an outstanding horse that we thought he was from day one."
While Commentator was game in defeat, Velazquez said he could feel him getting tired in the final furlong.
"By the eighth pole he started to really flatten out a little bit," Velazquez said. "By the sixteenth pole I said, man I hope he can hang on a little longer, but the other one had a little bit more than we did. He didn't give up, he kept running, that's for sure."
Belmont Park, 10th Race - May 26, 2008