Metaboss Returns, Plus a Longshot in the Alabama

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

A fantastic summer of racing continues on Saturday with stellar afternoons at Del Mar and Saratoga, including four grade I races. The highlight of the weekend will undoubtedly be the Pacific Classic (gr. I), which has drawn the amazing trio of California Chrome, Beholder, and Dortmund, but this race looks more like a "watch" than a "bet" since the big three will dominate the wagering and all could win on their best day.

Instead, we'll focus our handicapping attention on the Del Mar Handicap (gr. II) and the Alabama Stakes (gr. I). The latter also looks like a "watch" and not a "bet" at first glance, but while Songbird is a standout, there is one filly that I think has a chance to finish on the board at a big price. Let's start handicapping!

Del Mar Handicap (gr. II)

This 11-furlong turf race has drawn a deep field of twelve horses, including the graded stakes winners Ashleyluvssugar, Finnegans Wake and Flamboyant, who figure to attract much of the wagering support. But I'm very excited about the chances of Metaboss, a son of Street Boss that I believe has the talent to be a major stakes winner. During an abbreviated 2015 campaign, he won two of three starts, including the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) on the Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields. Following a thirteen-month layoff, during which he was transferred to trainer Michael Dickinson, Metaboss turned up in Maryland and endured three straight troubled trips when finishing sixth, third, and fourth in allowance optional claiming races.

Despite his traffic trouble, Metaboss showed a significant late kick in all three of those races, and when he was shipped back to California and turned over to trainer Philip D'Amato, Metaboss responded with a tremendous performance in a one-mile allowance optional claiming race at Del Mar. Finally getting a clean trip, Metaboss trailed the field early on before unleashing a tremendous run in the final two furlongs, swallowing up his rivals in breathtaking fashion to win by 1 ½ lengths. He strikes me as a colt that doesn't need a flat mile and a fast pace to set up his late run; I think he can be equally effective or more so going eleven furlongs. Call it a hunch or a gut feeling, but I've long been a fan of Metaboss and think he's sitting on a huge effort this Saturday.

I'll also throw in a good word for Wanstead Gardens, who is 3-for-6 over the Del Mar turf course. Last summer, he won an 11-furlong allowance optional claiming race with a powerful finish, and he wasn't beaten by much when sixth behind The Pizza Man in the 12-furlong Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes (gr. II) last November. On July 30th, he returned from a seven-month layoff to win a nine-furlong allowance optional claiming race here at Del Mar by a neck while running the final furlong in about :11 2/5, and I think he's a great candidate to finish in the exotics at 12-1.

Alabama Stakes (gr. I)

Songbird will be an overwhelming favorite in this ten-furlong race, and a defeat would be a huge surprise. She's unbeaten in nine starts, eight of them graded stakes races, and she looked terrific winning the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) at Saratoga last month. With her tactical speed and brilliance, she should be in command of this race from the start. The only question mark is the ten-furlong distance of the Alabama Stakes--for what it's worth, Songbird ran the final furlong of the Coaching Club American Oaks in a slow :13.54 seconds, and there can be a significant difference between winning at nine furlongs and winning at ten.

If you want to take a shot at beating Songbird, perhaps in a multi-race wager where an upset could lead to astronomical payoffs, one filly to consider is Dark Nile. Owned by WinStar Farm and trained by Arnaud Delacour, she has quietly compiled a solid record, winning four straight races (two of them stakes races), including the 8.5-furlong Delaware Oaks (gr. III). A versatile filly that has been successful racing on the lead and off the pace, Dark Nile is strongly bred for handling ten furlongs (she's by Pioneerof the Nile out of a Bernardini mare), and while she'll be facing much tougher company on Saturday, her 20-1 morning line odds are appealing. At the very least, she's a good candidate to play in second behind Songbird, and how often can you get 20-1 on a horse that has won four straight races?

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the major races this weekend?



To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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