2016 Commonwealth Turf Stakes Preview

The Breeders’ Cup may be over.  Horse racing still goes on, and so does Picks and Ponderings.

As we move into November, we move into the precarious last few weeks of the turf racing season in the midwest.  Similarly to last year, the cold weather has been slow to set in — great news for racing staying on the grass as long as possible.

The Commonwealth Turf Stakes (GIII) is one of the last chances for three-year-old lawnmowers to compete against their own age group.  Inaugurated in 2004, it has always been run at a mile and a sixteenth on the grass, and has held a Grade III status since 2008.

Two graded stakes winners from this summer at Arlington, Arlington Classic (GIII) winner SURGICAL STRIKE and American Derby (GIII) winner ONE MEAN MAN, show up here.  Two others, HAY DAKOTA and DISCREETNESS, have also notched victories on the local circuit.  Should any of these horses win, they would be continuing a history of runners who made a mark in Chicago and also succeeded in the Commonwealth Turf.

2010 Commonwealth Turf winner Yankee Fourtune now lives at Old Friends. (Photo: Nicolle Neulist)

2010 Commonwealth Turf winner Yankee Fourtune now lives at Old Friends and begs for carrots from his visitors.  (Photo: Nicolle Neulist)

In 2010, Yankee Fourtune earned his first graded stakes victory right here at Hawthorne, when he held two and a half lengths clear of Mister Mari Gras to win the Hawthorne Derby (GIII).  Next out, he won his second in the Commonwealth Turf, where he held safe from Guys Reward to win by a length.  Two other horses have run in the Hawthorne Derby and then won the Commonwealth Turf Stakes.  Both of them checked in third at 35th and Cicero before winning this race at Churchill: Arbuckle Bandit (2006) and Lea (2012).  One other local stakes horse also counted a win in the Commonwealth Turf: Therecomesatiger (2005) had broken his maiden earlier that year at Arlington, and returned there his four-year-old summer to upset Fort Prado in the Sea O Erin Breeders’ Cup Handicap.

Selections are for turf only.

Churchill Downs: Saturday, November 12

Race 10: Commonwealth Turf Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 5:30pm EST

This year’s edition of the Commonwealth Turf drew a field of eleven to vie for a $100,000 purse.  Trainer Mark Casse has three entrants in here.  Without a lot of pace signed on for the race, Casse’s longest-price horse on the morning line appeals significantly: IKERRIN ROAD.  IKERRIN ROAD started his career in Great Britain, sprinting six and seven furlongs in the handicap ranks.  After selling at auction to owner Robert Masterson, IKERRIN ROAD turned up in a five and a half furlong dash at Keeneland.  He finished fifth as the favourite, but that was his first start in several months.  He also found himself nowhere near the lead, and he has done his better work on or near the front.  This should set up better.  He should be either on the front, or just off SCHOLAR ATHLETE, here.  The route distance will be new territory for IKERRIN ROAD, but given his breeding, he should take well to it.  In short, IKERRIN ROAD has significant upside here, and will be the right price to play.

We spoke of Mark Casse briefly earlier.  It jumps off the page that Julien Leparoux, someone who rides first-call for Casse so often, does not ride any of Casse’s trio.  Instead, Leparoux has the call on Mike Maker trainee SIR DUDLEY DIGGES.  The Queen’s Plate winner races for the first time since a second-place finish the Breeders’ Stakes on August 21.  This will be a step up in class from his summer campaign, as he moves from Canadian-breds to open company.  But, it bodes well that SIR DUDLEY DIGGES broke his maiden at a mile and a sixteenth over the Keeneland grass — against open sophomore maidens.  On pace, he should be well suited as well.  Though his last-out effort in the Breeders’ had him rallying from further back, his earlier attempts have him nearer the pace.  That style could very well lead SIR DUDLEY DIGGES to his first graded win.

Finally, we get to ONE MEAN MAN.  So many people lament the inconsistency of the three-year-old dirt division, but there are no such worries about this son of Mizzen Mast.  Through the summer he has been consistently in the exacta at the Grade III and listed levels, and ONE MEAN MAN did not disgrace himself when he finished a close fourth behind Beach Patrol in the Grade I Secretariat Stakes.  He is fast enough to be a factor here, and should be able to get a stalk-and-pounce sort of trip.  ONE MEAN MAN is as reliable and tenacious a three-year-old as we have, and he should be in the frame.

Selections:

#9 IKERRIN ROAD (15/1)

#2 SIR DUDLEY DIGGES (9/2)

#7 ONE MEAN MAN (3/1)

Longshot:  #4 HAY DAKOTA (20/1) faces graded company for the first time here, and this will be a class test.  But, he does have a third-place finish behind ONE MEAN MAN — beaten only a neck — in the Mystic Lake Derby this summer, suggesting he could be able to handle the test.  His two starts since then have both been good: a third-place finish in a two-other-than against older at Canterbury, and then a comfortable victory at that same level at Hawthorne.  He has taken a liking to this distance on grass, too.  All three of his wins have come at either a mile and seventy yards or a mile and a sixteenth on turf.  HAY DAKOTA has also shown pace versatility.  He can rally from just off a slower pace, or come in from the clouds.  Expect the former here: and if he mirrors his last outing in both running style and speed, he should be competitive here at a massive price.

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