09/21/2009 11:00PM

Mettee guiding Godolphin hot streak

Barbara D. Livingston
Regal Ransom's Super Derby victory was the latest in a string of top-level wins for Godplphin.

BOSSIER CITY, La. - As Super Derby hero Regal Ransom grazed near the stakes barn at Louisiana Downs last Saturday night, Rick Mettee commented to a visitor how much the trees bordering the edge of the backstretch had grown. He had last been to the track some 25 years ago, when he was working as a Southern California-based assistant to trainer John Gosden.

Mettee on Saturday was in from New York, where he plays a key role in one of the hottest stables in North America. He is the U.S.-based assistant to Saeed bin Suroor, a private trainer for Dubai-based Godolphin Racing. Over the past month and a half, the U.S. operation has won Grade 1 stakes with Flashing, Music Note, Seventh Street, and Pyro. Mettee, who has been with Suroor for five years, was recommended for the position by Gosden.

"He's doing a very good job, and he's a good guy," Suroor said of Mettee. "We work well as a team. It's great to have him."

Mettee, 51, is a native of Maryland. He spent close to a decade working for Gosden during a period of time when the barn housed champions Bates Motel and Royal Heroine. Before that, Mettee was with the late Richard Dutrow Sr., a perennial leading trainer in Maryland.

"I moved to California in the early 80's to work for John Gosden," Mettee said. "I worked for him for nine years, from 1981 to 1990, then I was out on my own for a while. I had a few decent horses here and there. But this is what I've done for the past five years. John recommended me."

Mettee credits his grandmother, whom he described as a $2 bettor, for getting him interested in racing. He said as a youngster he would tag along with her when she would take the bus to Baltimore to play Pimlico.

These days, Mettee is hands-on with some of the best horses racing. Godolphin's stable blossomed this summer at Saratoga, and has continued its run into the fall season with wins last weekend from Regal Ransom and Midshipman, the champion 2-year-old of 2008.

"We had a good winter over in Dubai, and then we got to Belmont and it was a little tough adjusting some of these horses back," Mettee said. "It's been a couple of years since we've done that, bringing a string over from Dubai, so we had kind of a soft spring at Belmont. But everything came right at Saratoga. We had good horses and the weather was really good up at Saratoga. The track was great up there, and that's why so many of these horses have come back and run so well."

Plans for Regal Ransom, the winner of the Group 2, $2 million UAE Derby in March who wired the field in the Grade 2, $750,000 Super Derby, are still being determined, said Suroor.

"There are many options open for him," he said. "Now we're looking for a Group 1."

Mettee is also excited about the future of Regal Ransom off his smart-looking win in the Super Derby.

"He almost did it like an older horse the way he just switched off on the lead," he said. "And although he'd been an honest, tough horse all winter for us, he just looked more like a polished horse. Even in the warm-up, I thought he was very quiet and composed . . . it was really encouraging."

Regal Ransom on Sunday returned to Belmont Park.

Meet-high handle Saturday

Louisiana Downs handled a meet-high $5,175,102 from all sources on its 13-race card Saturday. It was highlighted by the Super Derby, and handle on the big race itself was $1,333,949, according to Trent McIntosh, director of racing and racing secretary for Louisiana Downs.

"We had a great day," he said.

Louisiana Downs ran a total of six stakes worth a cumulative $1.2 million on Saturday.

* Seeking Ms Shelley could go favored Thursday in the second race, a competitive optional claimer for fillies and mares at about five furlongs on turf. She was second at this level in her last start, when she broke last and came rolling. Francisco Torres has the mount for trainer Joe Duhon.