Making the Grade, which will run through the 2015 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the next Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win important races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
This week we take a closer look at Metaboss, winner of the $200,525 El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 14 at Golden Gate Fields.
Metaboss made the leap from maiden race to graded stakes with ease on Feb. 14 in the El Camino Real Derby, closing powerfully to win the 1 1/8-mile race in his stakes debut. A candidate for the Spiral Stakes on March 21 at Turfway Park, the biggest question that will follow Metaboss right up to the Kentucky Derby is: Can he carry the form he has displayed on grass and synthetic surfaces to a dirt main track? He earned 10 points via the El Camino Real Derby win on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, so let’s take a look at his chances moving forward, especially when it comes to potential to succeed on a dirt track.
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Ability: Mersad Metanovic, a bloodstock agent who is a part-owner of Metaboss, purchased the colt for $10,000 as a weanling at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale in 2012. He also was reported as sold at a 2-year-old sale in 2014 for $60,000, but remains with the partnership that includes Metanovic.
Although Metaboss did not win any of his first three races, he did show some talent. He finished third in his debut sprinting on the turf before a fourth in the off-the-turf Juvenile Turf Sprint on the Breeders’ Cup Saturday undercard, which is his only start on dirt to date. He earned an 84 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut and an 87 for his second start, but Metaboss really started to show progress when he stretched out to 1 1/16 miles on turf for his third race in November at Del Mar. He finished second to highly regarded Bolo and earned a 105 speed figure, which is his career top to date.
Metaboss returned in early January and won at that 1 1/16-mile distance on the grass at Santa Anita before unleashing a powerful late rally to take the El Camino Real Derby by 2½ lengths. He improved from a 98 Equibase Speed Figure in his season debut to a 102 on the synthetic Tapeta Footings surface in the El Camino Real Derby, so he looks like he could be poised to take another step forward in the Spiral.
The fact that his only unplaced finish came on dirt is a concern. He was beaten by 8¾ lengths by Ocho Ocho Ocho in that race, but trainer Jeff Bonde did say he thinks added distance more than surface has been the key to Metaboss’ recent improvement.
"This horse, when he got to go extended distances, he was a different horse," Bonde said. "He has improved by leaps and bounds."
Running style: Metaboss is a closer who excels when making one, sustained bid after dropping well off the pace. That running style can be extremely effective in the Kentucky Derby – see recent deep closers Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009 – when there is a fast pace, but it also lends itself to potential traffic trouble when trying to navigate a path from the back of a 20-horse field to the front. Closers also are at the mercy of pace in the Kentucky Derby and in the prep races leading up to it. When the pace is leisurely up front, a closer’s chances become greatly compromised.
Connections: Trainer Jeff Bonde hails from a family of farriers and got his start in the Thoroughbred industry in 1969 with Northern California trainer Jerry Dutton. Bonde has amassed 1,624 wins according to Equibase and Equineline statistics, including 28 graded stakes victories. His top runners to date include Grade 1 winners Smiling Tiger, Cambina and She’s a Tiger, who won the Eclipse Award as 2013 champion 2-year-old filly.
Bonde has only had one Kentucky Derby starter; he finished 10th with Twice the Appeal in the 2011. Bonde’s two Preakness starters both were unplaced.
Bloodstock agent Mersad Metanovic also found Eclipse winner She’s a Tiger for Bonde, but Metanovic is just one of 40 owners in the group that races Metaboss.
The partnership started on Facebook with a group that called themselves The Homeless Handicappers. Two racehorses and one Derby dream later, the group is on the Triple Crown trail.
Jockey Alex Solis was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2014 and earned his 5,000th career win on Jan. 1, 2015 when he guided Lutine Belle to a victory in the Blue Norther Stakes at Santa Anita Park. A winner of 322 graded stakes during his career, Solis won the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Pleasantly Perfect and finished in a dead-heat for the win in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf with Johar. He also won the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Kona Gold. Solis’ lone success in the U.S. Triple Crown races came aboard Snow Chief in the 1986 Preakness, but he did finish second three times in four years in the Kentucky Derby with Captain Bodgit (1997), Victory Gallop (1998) and Aptitude (2000).
Pedigree: Metaboss is from the third crop of multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter Street Boss. Street Boss won seven of 13 career starts and only finished out of the top three twice, with both unplaced finishes coming in his first four starts.
Street Boss raced exclusively on synthetic surfaces during a time in racing in Southern California when major racetracks were required to have synthetic main tracks.
It would be easy to call Street Boss a synthetic specialist, and that might be true, but the reality is that there were few opportunities to race on dirt in California at the time he was racing. What we do know is that he was extremely effective on synthetics, very fast and never raced beyond seven furlongs.
As a sire, Street Boss is off to a nice start with Grade 1-winning sprinter Capo Bastone from his first crop and 2014 Arkansas Derby winner Danza from his second. His runners have shown talent on dirt, turf and synthetics but with a very limited sampling Street Boss has been more effective as a sire with runners at shorter distances.
As pedigree expert Sid Fernando pointed out, Metaboss’ breeder John Toffan also bred the colt’s first three dams. Metaboss was bred by Toffan and his wife, Cheryl, as was his dam, stakes-placed Spinning Yarns, by Free House.
Free House was a SoCal star in the late 1990s, winning the 1997 Santa Anita Derby, 1998 Pacific Classic and 1999 Santa Anita Handicap. Bred and raced by Toffan and longtime partner Trudy McCaffery, who died in February 2007, Free House finished second in the 1997 Preakness and third that year in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
Toffan and McCaffery also bred and raced Metaboss’ grandam (maternal grandmother), Belle Story, by Bien Bien (a multiple Grade 1 winner Toffan and McCaffery purchased at the 1990 Keeneland September yearling sale), as well as his third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Bags of Pace.
Spinning Yarns won races from 5½ furlongs to 1 1/8 miles and finished second in the 2009 Fran’s Valentine Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Neither Belle Story nor Bags of Pace ever visited the winner’s circle. The former is a full-sister (same dam, same sire) to Grade 1-placed stakes winner and sire Buckland Manor, and the latter finished second by a head going a mile on the grass and second by a nose going 1 1/16 miles on the dirt.
Metaboss’s fourth dam (maternal great-great grandmother), Pima, won the Grade 3 Ak-Sar-Ben Oaks at 1 1/8 miles on dirt in 1988.
There is not an abundance of stamina in this pedigree, but distance did not look to be an issue for Metaboss in the El Camino Real Derby. I’m more concerned with his distant fourth-place finish in his lone start on dirt, albeit against quality competition, and the fact that his breakout performance came on a synthetic main track. Combine that performance with his sire’s record on synthetics, and I’d expect Metaboss to be very tough in the Spiral Stakes on Turfway Park’s synthetic main track. No question, Metaboss’s future is bright, but I’d have a hard time backing him in the Kentucky Derby at this point given the obvious question about his ability to excel on dirt.