Commissioner surging into Stephen Foster Handicap

Profile Picture: James Scully

June 12th, 2015

Commissioner’s five-month sophomore campaign was marked by inconsistent performances, the highlights being an early January allowance victory and a head second in the Belmont Stakes in the season finale, and he came back from a seven-month layoff this winter with a pair of setbacks.

However, the colt turned things around in his last two outings, posting excellent wins in the Skip Away and Pimlico Special, and will enter Saturday evening’s $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap on the upswing for conditioner Todd Pletcher.

Commissioner can carry his momentum forward with a third straight victory.

More of a plodding type earlier in his career, Commissioner has posted strong BRIS Early Pace numbers in his last five starts and figures to be showing the way Saturday from his rail post. His last two BRIS Speed ratings are outstanding, a 113 for the Skip Away and a 107 for the Pimlico Special, and I loved how he drew away in the Pimlico stretch last time, registering a 110 Late Pace for the 2 ½-length decision.

Javier Castellano accompanies the rapidly-improving Commissioner to Churchill Downs and I like his chances wire to wire.

He’ll likely be the third choice in the wagering behind Grade 1 winners Lea and Hoppertunity.

Lea is the 7-5 morning line favorite but the lightly-raced six-year-old has not run back to the stellar form he displayed winning last year’s Donn and Hal’s Hope. He never appeared comfortably recording a non-threatening third in the Dubai World Cup last time and jockey Joel Rosario is not riding with a lot of confidence, dropping his last 20 starts at Belmont Park and posting a zero-for-15 mark this year at Churchill Downs.

Hoppertunity likes Churchill, posting a nice score in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap last November, but he’s unraced since a dull third in the February 7 San Antonio and was a surprise addition to the Foster field by Bob Baffert. Not sure how sharp he is presently.

Noble Bird faces a class check but exits an encouraging head second in the May 1 Alysheba at Churchill, registering a 107 BRIS Speed. He’s run well in three straight starts for Mark Casse and at 10-1 on the morning line, Noble Bird is eligible to outperform expectations.

I’ll play Commissioner to win and a straight 1-4 exacta (Commissioner-Noble Bird).

Some quick thoughts on the other three graded stakes:

The $200,000 Fleur des Lis should feature plenty of pace, with the top two choices on the morning line, My Sweet Addiction and Gold Medal Dancer, mixing it up on the front end along with possibly Frivolous and Yahilwa. I’ll tab the late-running Tiz Windy (8-1) for a minor upset. She exits a pair of sneaky efforts for Carl Nafzger and the Grade 2 winner runs well at Churchill, posting a pair of wins. Tiz Windy will be closing boldly with Julien Leparoux.

Don’t Leave Me looks live in the $100,000 Regret for three-year-old turf fillies and I’ll also use the speed, Lady Zuzu, in any multi-race wagers.

Fame and Power is the most likely winner of the $100,000 Matt Winn; the in-form colt brings dangerous speed to the equation. Island Town will make his two-turn and stakes debut off a sharp win on the Kentucky Derby undercard, offering an eye-catching rally on a track playing speed-friendly early in the day, and rates the best chance if the odds-on favorite falters.

Commissioner photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese Photography