04/10/2014 1:50PM

Metz goes full blast at Emerald entry box

Coady Photography
Jeff Metz has 27 horses at Emerald Downs, but must search for a replacement for stable star E Z Kitty, who has been retired.

AUBURN, Wash. – After winning the Emerald Downs training title in his first year in the Pacific Northwest, Jeff Metz will try to get a quick jump on a repeat when Emerald kicks off its 75-day meeting Saturday at 2 p.m. Pacific.

Metz stuffed the entry box Wednesday and will send out nine horses to compete on the 10-race card. Metz has 27 horses at Emerald Downs, many in sharp form after starts this spring in Arizona or California, so, as the trainer put it, “I figure we might as well strike while the iron is semi-lukewarm. We’ve got a third of the barn in on opening day.”

Metz saddled 42 winners at Emerald last summer to edge Frank Lucarelli for the training title. His big horse was E Z Kitty, a 5-year-old mare who won three stakes. E Z Kitty has since been retired, leaving Metz to scramble for a “big” horse while doing his usual handiwork with claimers.

Metz, who spends the winter at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, has rapidly expanded his racing operation. In 2013, he won 111 races to rank 33rd nationally, and his horses earned more than $850,000 in purse money, more than double his previous career best.

“The last four years, every year it’s gotten a little bit better,” Metz said. “The last four years have been a steady ride, and Emerald Downs, career-wise, was the best move I made. The timing, in terms of getting E Z Kitty, really got me going with some better horses. This year, I have a couple of Washington-breds, which I didn’t have last year, and about eight 2-year-olds, compared to just one last year.”

Few trainers have more pokers in the fire. Metz, 47, employs assistant trainers at Emerald Downs, Golden Gate Fields, Barretts at Fairplex, and now Prairie Meadows, where one of his clients is heavily involved in the Iowa breeding industry.

“This morning, I entered at Emerald, Los Alamitos, and Turf Paradise, and on Saturday, we’ll run horses at Emerald, Los Al, and Santa Anita,” Metz said Wednesday. “To add to the mix, a week from Saturday is opening day at Prairie Meadows, and I have 12 horses there. It wasn’t my intention to have four strings, but this is how it has worked out with my clients. I will be traveling quite a bit.”

But Metz said most of his summer focus will be on Emerald Downs, with another training title among his goals. A former exercise rider and assistant to Southern California trainers Bruce Headley and Dan Hendricks, Metz has his preferred jockeys lined up to help him. Anne Sanguinetti won 26 races for Metz at Emerald in 2013 before being injured in a late-season spill. Metz will call on her, Rocco Bowen, and newcomer Felipe Valdez as he vaults headlong into the new meeting.