Keying Commute in the Elusive Quality Stakes
After a long winter at Aqueduct, handicappers are in for a change of pace this week when racing in New York returns to Belmont Park for the annual spring meet.The feature race on the first Saturday card is the $125,000 Elusive Quality Stakes, a seven-furlong turf sprint named for the recently-deceased sire of 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones. The race has attracted a wide-open field of ten starters with plenty of opportunities for bettors to make a nice score.
Among the major players and expected favorites are #10 Kharafa and #9 Conquest Panthera. Kharafa is a nine-year-old veteran making his seasonal debut following a consistent but frustrating 2017 campaign that saw him place in four stakes races without reaching the winner’s circle. In that regard, Conquest Panthera had the better season, winning the Play the King Stakes (gr. II) going seven furlongs at Woodbine and placing third by just a neck in the Makers’ 46 Mile (gr. I) at Keeneland, but Conquest Panthera lacked Kharafa’s consistency and disappointed on a few occasions at short prices. He also seemed to be at less than his best when finishing a distant fifth in the Danger’s Hour Stakes at Aqueduct last month, his first start of the season.
Therefore, I’m going to favor the chances of #5 Commute. Trained by Mark Casse, the six-year-old gelding held his own against some very good horses during a four-race campaign last year, including Canadian Horse of the Year Pink Lloyd and the Grade 1-placed runners Green Mask and Tower of Texas. I was particularly impressed by Commute’s effort in the Connaught Cup Stakes (gr. II) going seven furlongs at Woodbine, as he was beaten just a nose in a race that featured a blazing final time of 1:19.40, just 0.02 off the track record.
Commute returned to action three weeks ago in the 5 ½-furlong Shakertown Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland, and I thought he ran well to finish fourth despite racing over a soft turf course and at a distance short of his best. Now Commute is stretching back out to seven furlongs and facing a field without much early speed; I envision him working out a perfect trip setting or stalking modest fractions before taking command and holding off the late runners to prevail.
I’ll key Commute in the exotics with the other logical contenders and also #1 Blind Ambition, who showed good sprint form last year for trainer Todd Pletcher, earning a 100 BRIS speed figure while defeating a quality field in a six-furlong allowance race over this course.
$4 exacta: 5 with 9,10 ($8) $4 exacta: 9,10 with 5 ($8) $1 exacta: 1,5 with 1,5 ($2) $1 trifecta: 5 with 1,9,10 with 1,9,10 ($6) $1 trifecta: 1,9,10 with 5 with 1,9,10 ($6)