The Todd Pletcher-trained Commissioner stamped himself as a prime candidate for the 2014 Triple Crown Friday at Gulfstream Park, where he prevailed over a strong field of three-year-old prospects.
The son of A.P. Indy surged between horses in the stretch to defeat Top Billing by a neck in the $48,750 entry-level allowance.
"We're pretty pleased with that -- a horse with a big pedigree like that, good looking," Pletcher said. "It seems like he has all the right ingredients."
Commissioner, the 6-1 fifth betting choice, broke alertly under jockey Jose Lezcano to grab ground-saving position right behind his pacesetting stablemate Ichiban Warrior, who was allowed to set comfortable fractions around the first turn and along the backstretch. Ichiban Warrior, the 3-1 third choice ridden by Julien Leparoux, continued to lead into the stretch, challenged briefly by Cousin Steven, the 8-5 favorite ridden by Javier Castellano. Yet, both would fade out of it as Commissioner and Top Billing were swung to the outside from their rail positions for the stretch drive, joined on the outside by Hy Kodiak Warrior.
Top Billing, the 3-1 second choice ridden by Joel Rosario, appeared on his way to victory in mid-stretch but lacked running room between Commissioner to his inside and Hy Kodiak Warrior to his outside. With running room to his inside, Commissioner took charge and out-battled Top Billing to the wire. Hy Kodiak Warrior finished third, another two lengths back.
"I had a very good trip. He's a very nice colt, and I think he'll be very good in the future," Lezcano said. "He got to the front and then he waited for the horses, and when he felt the horse beside him he took off again. I think he's very nice but he's still learning."
"It was a good educational trip," Pletcher said. "It was a big effort. It was his first race since Saratoga. He's a big powerful horse. He's still improving, still learning to run. He's still learning to finish and focus, so I think there's room for improvement."
Commissioner, owned and bred by WinStar Farm, finished second at a mile in his debut at Monmouth in August before capturing a 1 1/8-mile maiden race at Saratoga on August 28. The Kentucky-bred colt was unraced until Friday's return to action.
"At that time your options are pretty limited for a horse that wants a mile and an eighth," Pletcher said. "We didn't feel like he was mature enough to want to go to California and go that route, so it was kind of a tactical plan to give him some time off and bring him back for his three-year-old campaign in mind. Most of the A.P. Indys I've been around get better as they get older. To see what he did today was very encouraging.
"We've got a lot of options. I like the mile and an eighth, but we won't have a mile-and-an-eighth option before the Florida Derby (March 29), so we might have to back up to a mile and a sixteenth. We'll see how he bounces out of it, but you have to put the Fountain of Youth (February 22) in the mix."