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11 runners vie in $50K Governor’s Stakes on Sunday

May 20, 2016     E-mail this page to a friend!

Kaabraaj guards his lunch on Thursday, May 19
(photo by Emerald Downs)
Trainer Jeff Metz won’t sneak up on anybody in the Governor’s Stakes this year, not with Kaabraaj coming off a track and state record performance for six furlongs last month.

Kaabraaj, a 4-year-old Abraaj gelding, heads a field of 11 older runners entered in the $50,000 Governor’s Stakes at Emerald Downs on Sunday, May 22. At 6½ furlongs, the Governor’s is first stop en route to the 81st running of the $200,000 Longacres Mile (G3) on August 14, a series that also features the $50,000 Budweiser Stakes at one mile on June 19 and $50,000 Mt. Rainier Handicap at 1-1/16 mile on July 17.

As for the Governor’s, the 11-horse field is the biggest ever for the race at Emerald Downs, breaking the mark of 10 set last year when California invader Fleet Eagle stunned practically everyone with a 6¾-length victory at 39-to-1 odds.

Metz played a key role last year, handling Fleet Eagle’s pre-race workouts and lead-up to the race for California trainer and close friend Paula Capestro. And in 2014, Metz’ saddled Why Not Be Perfect to a stakes record 1:13.72 in a $59.80 Governor’s surprise.

Kaabraaj won’t be anywhere near Fleet Eagle’s 39-to-1 or Why Not Be Perfect’s 28-to-1, but he has a good chance to bag another Governor’s victory for Metz.

Claimed for $10,000 from his career debut last year by Horseplayers Racing Club 240, Woodway Stables or Warlock Stables, Kaabraaj is 4-3-3 in 11 subsequent starts, including last month’s amazing triumph in which he led gate-to-wire in 1:06.86, breaking the mark shared by Atta Boy Roy and Noosa Beach. Coincidentally, both Atta Boy Roy and Noosa Beach won the Governor’s—Atta Boy Roy in 2009 and Noosa Beach in 2011.

“That first race of the meet (April 10) he wasn’t fully cranked, so going into the next allowance race I wasn’t expecting the kind of performance he put out there,” Metz said of Kaabraaj. “I could see he had his game face on but I was wowed by that performance. That was just a stellar performance.

“Leading into this race, he couldn’t be training any better. We’ve tried to make him more versatile. He doesn’t mind either style. He’ll do a little bit of both. I don’t know if he’ll bring the same kind of performance that he did last time, but I’m confident in him.”

Metz anticipates a donnybrook in the Governor’s. He especially respects O B Harbor, the 4-year-old Oregon-bred that defeated Kaabraaj by two lengths on April 10.

“There are some other good horses in here,” he said. “O B Harbor always does well when he’s fresh, Prime Engine is good enough to run anywhere in the country, and Absolutely Cool I saw down in Arizona and he strung some good races together.

“It’s not going to be an easy race for anybody.”

Noosito finished second in the 2015 Governor’s but was disqualified and placed sixth for causing interference in the stretch. The 5-year-old Harbor the Gold horse is a wildcard in this year’s Governor’s, following an uncharacteristic last-place finish in the April 23 allowance race won by Kaabraaj. Noosito (15-5-3-3-$198,705) has come back with two five-furlong works for Doris Harwood, including a bullet :572 on May 8.

The Governor’s Stakes goes as race #8 on a 10-race card. Post time is 5:39 p.m.