07/01/2004 11:00PM

Metatron's vacation officially over

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AUBURN, Wash. - A strong blast is expected to come down from Canada on Sunday, but it won't be part of any weather system. It will arrive in the form of Metatron, who figures to show his considerable speed in the $40,000 Independence Day Handicap at Emerald Downs.

"I'm not sure he'll be on the lead, but he'll be awfully close to it," said trainer Mel Snow. "He's too fast to be very far away."

Owner Brian Bland, who races under the banner of Coyote Creek Racing Stable, sent Metatron to Snow's Hastings barn last September with the idea of contesting the Vancouver track's fall handicaps. After further consideration, however, the owner and trainer put their plans for Metatron on hold.

"He was pretty beat up from racing in California," said Snow. "We decided to stop on him and try to repair what was wrong, then start fresh with him this year."

They appear to have made the right decision. Metatron, a 5-year-old son of Silver Ghost, finished a troubled fourth when returning in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance on May 22, but he came back in a similar spot on June 22 and scored by four lengths to earn a 92 Beyer Speed Figure.

"He ran really well, and he came out of that race just great," said Snow. "Since he is running again in just two weeks, I didn't have to do much with him between races. I think he is plenty fit."

While Metatron will be looking for his first stakes win in the 1 1/16-mile Independence Day, he has compiled an impressive r?sum? while amassing $251,660 in earnings from 5 wins in 21 starts. As a 2-year-old, he finished second to Came Home in the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship, second to Officer in the Grade 3 Best Pal, third to Officer in the Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity, and third to Siphonic and Harlan's Holiday in the Grade 2 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. Last year, he finished third in the Grade 3 Ben Ali Handicap at Keeneland after showing the way for Mineshaft, the 2003 Horse of the Year.

Metatron won't be meeting anything like Mineshaft on Sunday, but Snow is taking nothing for granted.

"There is no such thing as an easy stakes race," said the trainer. "I think Poker Brad is still the one to beat. I mean, that horse can really run. But I do think Metatron can be very, very competitive."

Poker Brad wheels back quickly

Trainer Tim McCanna said Poker Brad came out of his head loss to Demon Warlock in the one-mile Budweiser Emerald Handicap on June 20 none the worse for wear. Poker Brad engaged in a stretch-long bumping match with Demon Warlock, who won the race.

"We gave him a week off on the farm, and he came back breathing fire," said McCanna. "There were no ill effects from the bumping, and we can't even use that as an excuse for losing because he was the one doing the bumping. He ran his race, but he might have been a little too fresh. He tried to make a move going into the turn and he can't do that. He has a quarter-mile move, and that's it."

McCanna said he debated the wisdom of running Poker Brad back in two weeks in the Independence Day, especially because the $100,000 Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup Handicap is only three more weeks down the line on July 25.

"He has only run three times this year, and I was afraid if he skipped this race he'd be too fresh again for the next one," said the trainer. "This is the same schedule he followed last year, and it worked out okay."

Poker Brad ran second to Alfurune in last year's Independence Day, then came back to win the Mt. Rainier.

Mr. Makah takes to route racing

An intriguing newcomer to the stakes ranks is Mr. Makah, a 4-year-old full brother to last season's Washington Cup Classic winner, Colony Lane. Mr. Makah has been something of an in-and-outer, but he enters the Independence Day off a strong win over allowance company on June 19, when he got a mile in 1:35.

"We put goggles on him for that race, and I think it helped a lot," said trainer Bonnie Jenne. "He doesn't like dirt in his face, but he didn't seem to mind it with the goggles on."

Jenne said another reason for Mr. Makah's improved effort was the mile distance, which he was trying for the first time.

"We always assumed he would like to route because his full brother does, but sometimes that can be a faulty assumption," she said. "He relaxed well and finished strong, though, so it does look as though distance racing will be his thing."

Finally, Jenne feels Mr. Makah is showing some overdue maturity.

"I hesitate to say it, but it does seem that he is maturing mentally," she said. "We have always thought he had ability, but sometimes he would show up and sometimes he wouldn't. Now we'd just like to see some consistency. I really do think he will be able to run with these horses at some point, but I don't know if he is ready to do it now. We're kind of taking a shot."