Force the Pass gives relocated Commonwealth Derby a boost

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

September 16th, 2015

Once the home of the late, great Washington D.C. International, Laurel's famed turf course has not played host to a graded stakes for a number of years. That all changes Saturday when the $400,000 Commonwealth Derby (G2) and $250,000 Commonwealth Cup (G2) for older horses are both run over 1 1/8 miles.

To avoid losing their graded status by not being run for two consecutive years, the former Virginia Derby and Colonial Turf Cup have been rechristened and moved from the currently-shuttered Colonial Downs. The Commonwealth Oaks (G3), formerly the Virginia Oaks, will be run at Laurel on September 27.

Laurel has scored a coup with the entry of Force the Pass in the Commonwealth Derby. One of the nation's leading three-year-old turf performers, the Alan Goldberg-trained son of Speightstown scored upset wins in the Penn Mile (G3) and Belmont Derby (G1) earlier in the season, but was the beaten 3-2 favorite in the Secretariat (G1) last time after slow start.

"It was a heartbreaker," Goldberg said. "He got all jazzed up with that [stormy] weather, he lunged at the break. We thought we'd be second or on the lead early. We didn't expect to be that far back. Everything went wrong that day. Hopefully, at Laurel, everything will go the right way."

Force the Pass wound up third, beaten 5 1/4 lengths by European invader Highland Reel. He finished only a head behind Closing Bell, winner of Monday's $300,000 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs.

The Bill Mott-trained Go Around, third last out in the Saranac (G3) following a wide trip, is an improving sort that must be respected. Gallery, meanwhile, was beaten all of two lengths in the Penn Mile but the stakes winner will need to step up his game exiting a second-place effort in the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury.

Multiple stakes winner Vision Perfect was a non-factor in both of Saratoga's graded turf stakes for three-year-olds, while Fundamental and Great Dancer take a big step up in class off entry-level allowance wins. One Go All Go also falls in the latter category and should be prominent early.

Mr Speaker, Up With the Birds, and Legendary are all hoping to find some of their old spark in the Commonwealth Cup. Mr Speaker, last year's Belmont Derby winner, has been unplaced in both graded stakes attempts this year, while Up With the Birds, a former Canadian Horse of the Year, placed in both the Dixie (G2) and Arlington H. (G3) prior to a fourth in the Arlington Million (G1).

Grade 3 winner Legendary, who has placed in just one of four starts this term, might find the return to Laurel a welcome one having captured the $100,000 Japan Racing Association over the course a year ago.

(Force the Pass photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)