Force the Pass headlines Turf Cup on Commonwealth Day at Laurel Park

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Jen Caldwell

September 21st, 2016

Grade 1 hero Force the Pass enters Saturday’s $200,000 Commonwealth Turf Cup (G2) at Laurel Park 0-2-1 from four starts in 2016. The Alan Goldberg trainee will attempt to finally earn that elusive first win of his four-year-old season while facing 11 rivals in the one-mile turf contest.

The Commonwealth Turf Cup is one of eight stakes, three graded, worth $850,000 in purses on an 11-race Commonwealth Day program that also features the $200,000 Commonwealth Derby (G2) and $150,000 Commonwealth Oaks (G3) plus five $60,000 stakes restricted to Virgina-bred/sired horses.

Force the Pass put together a stellar sophomore campaign, capturing the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1), Penn Mile (G3) and Cutler Bay Stakes while placing in the Secretariat Stakes (G1), Commonwealth Derby (G2) and James W. Murphy Stakes.

The chestnut son of Speightstown actually concluded 2015 in the Commonwealth Derby last September 15, and opened 2016 with a half-length third in the Appleton Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park.

Force the Pass was expected to be one of the top picks in the May 21 Dixie Stakes (G2) at Pimlico, but was scratched with an illness and wasn’t seen in competition again until lining up for a pair of runner-up finishes in the Poker Stakes (G3) and Forbidden Apple Stakes at Belmont Park in June and July.

“I think he’s doing really, really well; the best he’s done all year,” the New Jersey-based Goldberg said. “I sent him down there Preakness Day and he got sick. He’s kind of been sick off and on all year but this race he’s going into very well, so we have no excuses. He’s run well despite that, but not like we thought he would. We’ll see what happens on Saturday.”

Force the Pass exits a fifth-placing in the Fourstardave Handicap (G1) at Saratoga on August 20, the first off-the-board placing in his 12-race career. That race was pushed back a week due to inclement weather

“We shipped him up the week before to run on a Saturday. It was a very, very hot day and then they canceled the races,” Goldberg said of the Fourstardave. “We shipped him back home and then we shipped him back up, and it might have been a little too much for him. He was a little flat.

“It’s nice timing from the last race. There was no rush to run him back. It’s worked out well; he’s had a couple good breezes and everything’s good, knock on wood.”

Those lining up against Force the Pass include last-out Oceanport Stakes (G3) victor Blacktype, recent Old Friends Stakes winner Flatlined and Farhaan, fourth by just a length in the September 5 Bernard Baruch Handicap (G2) at Saratoga.

“We took a shot in the stake because he loves the Saratoga turf course and he actually ran a really good race. He was fourth beaten a length behind Ring Weekend in track record time, so we’re excited about him,” said trainer Carlos Martin, who won a nine-way shake to claim the seven-year-old Farhaan for owner Matt Schera.

“We think we made a hell of a claim. He’s a hell of a horse.”

Farhaan was previously trained by Kiaran McLaughlin for breeder Shadwell Stable.

“He’s just a beautiful, classy horse. He looks like a portrait and just does everything right. They did a great job keeping the horse sound and healthy for a long time,” Martin added. “Last time he got a little bit further behind than I would have liked to see. I think the mile should be perfect for him. As long as there’s a little bit of pace for him to run into, we should be in good shape. I don’t think the distance will hurt us.”

Another in with a shot on Saturday is Top of Mind, who brings a two-race win streak into the Commonwealth Turf Cup after being switched to grass by trainer Rodney Jenkins.

“He was running well enough on the dirt that I just never gave (the turf) a second thought. Then he kind of ran a so-so couple of starts and I said, ‘Let’s try him on the turf.’ It looks like it turned him around and he liked it,” Jenkins explained.

“The horse is doing real good. He’s training well and he’s feeling good. Whether he’s good enough or not, it’s going to be a tough race so we’ll see. I don’t know if he’s good enough, but you’ve got to give them a shot when they’re doing good.”

One race after the Commonwealth Turf Cup, 10 sophomores will line up in the Commonwealth Derby going 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

American Patriot is among those 10 and is looking to get back to the winner’s circle following a very nice third, beaten only three parts of a length, in the Secretariat Stakes (G1) last out on August 13. Prior to that the Todd Pletcher trainee earned wins in the Kent Stakes (G3) and an allowance/optional claimer.

He’ll Pay once again takes on American Patriot after finishing second in the Kent, Scholar Athlete enters the race off fourth-place runs in the Queen’s Plate Stakes and Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine, and Isotherm will be given first-time Lasix while exiting a third-place effort in the Saranac Stakes (G3).

Prior to the Commonwealth Turf Cup, Pucker Up Stakes (G3) heroine Noble Beauty faces 10 fellow sophomore fillies in the Commonwealth Oaks.

Also in the nine-furlong grass contest is Grade 3 scorer Pricedtoperfection, who ran fourth in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) two starts back.

Force the Pass photo courtesy of NYRA/Joe Labozzetta/Adam Coglianese Photo