Mettee not discrete when
it comes to Dubai Cup

Feb 27, 2007 6:33 AM

It’s 20 hours by plane from New York to Dubai, but it’s taken Rick Mettee nearly half a century. It’s been worth the wait.

A former fixture on the Southern California training circuit, Mettee left a sinking ship in the Golden State three years ago rather than face rising costs and diminishing stock. After a disconcerting dry spell, Mettee landed on his feet and now is assistant trainer to former policeman Saeed bin Suroor, who directs operations for the world-class Godolphin Stable of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the Crown Prince and Minister of Defense of Dubai.

Mettee has come a long way from his Lutherville, Maryland, home, near old Timonium race track, where he’d ride his bike to as a kid. These days, the only thing Mettee has to peddle is horse flesh.

He is headquartered in New York, where he cares for thoroughbreds of the purest pedigree, and he considers the East Coast his home, another perk. "I’m only a four-hour drive from Long Island to Baltimore County, so that’s nice," he said.

"This is my third year with Godolphin," said the 48-year-old Mettee, whose facial features resemble actor William H. Macy’s, only more pleasant and not as chiseled. "It’s worked out well. We have 10 horses down at Payson Park (in Florida) just wintering right now. They’ll be ready for New York this spring."

But Mettee, a former assistant to international horseman John Gosden before going on his own in 1989, has little direct contact with Godolphin’s Triple Crown timber. "They tend to take the 3-year-olds to Dubai, so most of the ones I have in Florida are older horses getting ready for New York in the spring," he said.

With the racing world soon to be focusing assiduously on the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 31, and a potential meeting between Horse of the Year Invasor, the revered and undefeated Discreet Cat, and late-blooming handicap hotshot Premium Tap, Mettee’s experience holds value when trying to determine a winner.

"They’re all different," he said when asked about the adjustment horses must make going from the United States to Dubai. "If they get there early enough and get used to the warm climate, and if they can handle that race track, they’ll probably run pretty good. But you have be careful bringing them back to the U.S.

"Invasor was able to do that successfully last year, coming back from Dubai and winning the Pimlico Special. It takes a quality horse to run back that quick and maintain his form. I don’t think shipping to Dubai is as tough as people think, but you have to keep an eye on your horse. Some might not do well in that climate right away. You either have to ship just before the race, or get them there six weeks in advance to acclimate. Then most of them will run their race. I think that’s been proven.

"American horses have gone there and run pretty well, for the most part. Both the dirt track and the turf at Nad al Sheba are pretty fair courses for both speed horses and closers. I don’t think it’s got a huge bias either way.

"Adjustments have to be made once you bring them back here, though. You have to know the right time to begin training again and when to back off. That’s why I was so impressed with what (trainer) Kiaran (McLaughlin) did with Invasor last year. That was a real piece of horsemanship. He beat a good horse in Bernardini (in the Breeders’ Cup Classic)."

Blood being thicker than water, and since Discreet Cat is owned by Godolphin, Mettee favors the scintillating son of Forestry in the World Cup. The man knows who butters his falafel.

"Obviously, my heart’s with Discreet Cat, but who wins depends on how much other speed is in the race," Mettee said. "Discreet Cat going a mile and a quarter can probably dictate the pace most of the way around. You know Invasor will run a mile and a quarter, and Premium Tap can, too. It will depend on how they’re doing over there.

"Discreet Cat is already there, so you would figure he’s going to have home field advantage, like he did last year (when he defeated Invasor by seven decisive lengths in the UAE Derby). But Kiaran obviously knows what he’s doing, shipping Invasor over there, so at a mile and a quarter, it should be a helluva race, but there’s no way I’m going to pick against Discreet Cat."

The homestretch

”¡ Santa Anita Handicap trifecta box: Lava Man, Arson Squad and Molengao.

”¡ All it took for Alex Solis to break his slump was me writing a column about it. He won two races last Monday, burrowing through in the inside in one.

”¡ I see Barry Bonds held his first press conference of the new season, again denying use of steroids. Any journalist worth his laptop should have asked him to explain why he’s twice the size he was when he played with the Pirates.

”¡ If Dick Vitale is ever elected to the Hall of Fame, here’s a sure-fire way to keep his acceptance speech short — tie his hands together.

”¡ I’m perplexed that the world remains insanely agog over Anna Nicole Smith. Let’s face it, she wasn’t pretty or ugly. She was pretty / ugly.