The belief that May foals struggle on the Triple Crown trail has been chipped away over the years.
A late foaling date is not the preference when hoping to get a 3-year-old to peak in early May, but the success of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, born May 10, and 2005 Preakness and Belmont hero Afleet Alex, a May 9 baby, shows that such a birth date is more challenge than stigma.
Foaled May 17, 2012, diminutive graded stakes winner Metaboss does look like the kid still catching up to his peers.
Still, the chestnut colt's long stride has overtaken all challengers in 2015, which is why he carries sizable stature against 10 others in Saturday's Grade III, $550,000 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.
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Metaboss may be the smallest, youngest horse in most fields he has faced, but his win in the Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 14 put the Kentucky Derby in his connections' minds as a realistic goal.
The son of Street Boss looked up against it as he tracked eighth behind slow fractions of :25.29 and :49.25 but closed with a massive kick to win by 21/2 lengths over a field that included fellow Spiral entrant Conquest Typhoon.
That win in the El Camino Real made Metaboss 2-for-2 at 11⁄8 miles — the same distance as the Spiral — as he broke his maiden over that distance on the turf at Santa Anita Park on Jan. 4. His first two career losses came over sprint distances while his defeat going 11⁄16 miles on the turf at Del Mar last November came at the hands of well-regarded Bolo.
"In his last two races he's learned to sit and wait and make his run, and that has paid off for him," said Jeff Bonde, trainer of Metaboss. "I think the increased distances have made the horse that much better. That, and he is a May foal so he is starting to mature.
"He's got a big, long stride and it's not how big you are, it's how far you can jump."
Metaboss might relish a route of ground and synthetic surfaces, but Turfway Park's Polytrack is a different animal than Golden Gate's all-weather surface.
Not since Globalize in 2000 has a California-based shipper won the race now known as the Spiral, and that came when Turfway still had dirt. If Metaboss keeps advancing the way he has, he will probably get to try dirt for the second time in his career as it will be hard to pass up a qualified spot in the Kentucky Derby field.
"That's the owners' hope, everyone is dreaming and wants to give that a shot," said Bonde, who conditions Metaboss for an ownership group that includes bloodstock agent Mersad Metanovic and the Facebook group Homeless Handicappers.
The Derby Dozen
1. Dortmund: It's splitting hairs for the top spot between himself and American Pharoah. The chestnut monster has more 3-year-old foundation under him at this point than his champion stablemate, so he gets the headbob (he's used to winning that way). It must be good to be trainer Bob Baffert right now with arguably the two most talented 3-year-olds in his shedrow. "I can't believe I have two really top horses, he and Dortmund," Baffert said after American Pharoah's runaway win in the Rebel Stakes. "They're both good horses. I just feel very fortunate to have two horses like that."
2. American Pharoah: He did exactly what he was supposed to do in exactly the fashion he was supposed to do it during his season debut in the Grade II Rebel Stakes last Saturday. The reigning juvenile champion showed he was back, crushing an overmatched field as easy as he pleased — but there was more to it. A stumble at the break caused the son of Pioneerof the Nile to pull his right front shoe partially off, not that anyone would know it from the way he ran with his ears pricked the entire time as if he was being put through an afternoon canter. We don't know if he can rate, but it's not his fault no one has outrun him yet. "Ever since I've known Bob (Baffert), I've never genuinely seen him this excited and pumped," said Ahmed Zayat, owner of American Pharoah. The Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 11 will be his final prep.
3. Carpe Diem: WinStar Farm President Elliott Walden confirmed this week that the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 4 was still the plan for Carpe Diem's final prep race. As of now, he figures to tower over that field as it appears most other major contenders are going to either the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial or Arkansas Derby. Carpe Diem aired out his foes in winning the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October, so if there is a concern it's that he may not get tested before the Kentucky Derby.
4. Upstart: Put in what was by all accounts a big mile gallop Wednesday and is slated to work this weekend in preparation for the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 28. "I was in Ocala, but I got calls about (his gallop) and ... the rider Vicki King loved it," trainer Rick Violette Jr. said. "I got a couple of calls from the clockers, too, saying he looked awesome. He ate up, and he's bright-eyed today, so we're in a very, very good spot."
5. Firing Line: He gets away from Dortmund, finally, this Sunday as he is set to start in the Grade III Sunland Derby. The defection of graded stakes winner Lord Nelson from the field makes Firing Line's life easier, so not sure how much of a true read we'll get on his progression even if he wins. But if he can't deliver in this spot and has no obvious excuse, may have to accept that he is a cut below this strong group of 3-year-olds.
6. El Kabeir: His scheduled final prep in the Wood Memorial had an interesting prospect added to it this week as trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he is likely to send Frosted, fourth in the Fountain of Youth, to New York for that race. Far From Over will probably be the favorite but we still don't know how he will progress in what will be his third career start. El Kabeir has been consistent in his eight outings and while he may not win the Kentucky Derby, he's the type of honest runner horsemen adore.
7. Far From Over: No doubting his potential, but he is just such an unknown with only two starts. El Kabeir coming back to win the Gotham handily flatters him, as he was much the best in the Withers even with an ugly, stumbling start. Even if he performs well in the Wood Memorial, his light experience will be tossed into a hornet's nest on Kentucky Derby Day.
8. Itsaknockout: Had a steady work at Palm Beach Downs on March 14, breezing 4 furlongs in :49.58. Has every reason to improve in the Florida Derby, but need to see him actually cross the wire in front of top horses before totally buying in.
9. International Star: Returned to the worktab last Saturday, breezing 5 furlongs in 1:02.83 at Gulfstream Park for trainer Mike Maker. The Louisiana circuit doesn't appear to have the quality of California, New York or Florida but this colt has batted away all challengers this year. He'll be the clear standout in the Grade II Louisiana Derby on March 28.
10. Far Right: With American Pharoah headed to the Arkansas Derby, Far Right will have his work cut out for him in his final prep especially if there is no one to push the champion on the front end. Realistically, though, he doesn't need to win that race to get into the Derby. Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 at Oaklawn on Thursday. Tidbit: Trainer Ron Moquett stated that the son of Notional will be denoted as a ridgling going forward.
11. Prospect Park: Trainer Cliff Sise Jr. said the San Felipe runner-up is scheduled to work 6 furlongs at his San Luis Rey base Saturday in preparation for the Santa Anita Derby. He wasn't going to touch Dortmund in the San Felipe but this is a horse who keeps getting a little better every time out.
12. Mr. Z: Will have a new jockey and no blinkers when he goes to post in the Louisiana Derby. Corey Nakatani, who was supposed to pilot the colt, suffered a broken collarbone in a spill last weekend so Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux picks up the mount. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas confirmed Mr. Z will race without blinkers in the Louisiana Derby after wearing blinkers in his last five starts.
The Next Dozen
Bolo, Ocho Ocho Ocho, Frosted, War Story, Royal Son, Metaboss, Materiality, Frammento, Ami's Flatter, Keen Ice, Madefromlucky, Gorgeous Bird.