09/17/2013 2:58PM

Arlington Park: Massive Explosion enters Thursday sprint feature in fine form

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Justin Johns was driving a horse van from Arlington Park to Kentucky Downs on Wednesday. The horses riding along behind him weren’t any he trains. Johns hauls some horses and does a little of this, a little of that to supplement his work as a trainer. A horse named Ballyjamesduff was claimed from Johns last week at Arlington, and that left him with a one-horse stable going into the fall.

That one horse, though, has turned out pretty well. Massive Explosion has won three times and never finished worse than third in his five races this year. He has earned more than $100,000 and can enhance an already successful season when he starts in the featured sixth race Thursday at Arlington.

It’s not an easy spot. Massive Explosion is one of eight entrants in a Polytrack sprint allowance open to second-level allowance horses or $40,000 to $50,000 claimers, and he is one of three or four horses who have run best on or near the early lead.

Johns and his father, Keith, bred Massive Explosion and raised him themselves. He is by Military and out of the mare Big M, whose progeny produced for the Johnses turned out modestly enough that they decided to give her away. Massive Explosion was a weanling then.

“This horse was kind of a fluke,” Justin Johns said.

Massive Explosion turned heads while training at Arlington as a 2-year-old during the summer of 2012. Johns almost sold him before the horse debuted, and Massive Explosion was pounded at the betting windows in his first two races, going off at 9-5 and 6-5. It was hard to see what the fuss was about when he finished third, eighth, and fourth in his three starts in 2012.

But Johns began racing Massive Explosion in blinkers this year, and between maturity and the equipment change, the raw talent seen in the morning started to translate into racing success. Massive Explosion won an Illinois-bred two-turn turf maiden race, finished second in the Springfield Stakes at one mile on Polytrack, and most recently has reeled off consecutive front-running Polytrack sprint scores, first in an Illinois-bred allowance here at Arlington and more recently in a $63,000 open first-level allowance at Woodbine. Johns, of course, drove the horse to Canada himself.

If Massive Explosion stays sound and learns to rate a bit, he could earn a couple of hundred thousand dollars more for the Johnses, but that does not make him a winner Thursday. If the early and middle pace turns too taxing, the rail-drawn Zoebear could sneak through on the inside and rally to win, just as he did in a race at this class level Aug. 24.