Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Four years ago, the white and green silks of WinStar Farm – stained by mud – were
carried to Kentucky Derby (gr. I) glory by Super Saver and Calvin Borel. One of
the most renowned farms in the horse racing industry, WinStar Farm has experienced
much success in some of the most important races in the world, including not
only the Derby, but also the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), Breeders’ Cup Classic
(gr. I), and Belmont Stakes (gr. I). But surely few victories would taste
sweeter than an additional win in the Run for the Roses.
In WinStar’s possession is a talented colt that could grant them that triumph: Commissioner. In just three starts,
none of which were at the stakes level, Commissioner has left his mark on the
Derby trail. While the well-bred colt still has much left to prove, he is
certainly on the right track to Louisville.
Debuting at Monmouth Park in August 2013, Commissioner broke
slowly, establishing ample distance between himself and his competitors as he
trailed the field. A quarter-mile into the one-mile race, the bay colt was
already more than eight lengths behind the leader. A quarter-mile later, he was
nearly ten lengths behind. However, as the horses entered the far turn,
Commissioner began to accelerate, closing the gap between him and his
adversaries. Taking the outside route, the son of A.P. Indy made up a significant amount of ground to get up for
second as the winner drew off to an 8 ½-length victory.
Shipped to Saratoga for his second start, Commissioner changed his tactics and
showed more early speed than he had in his debut. In what has become a rarity
for two-year-old maiden races, the colt was competing at nine furlongs – just
one furlong shorter than the Derby distance. Although he did not press the
pace, the colt raced fourth of sixth in the early stages of the race, keeping
about four lengths between him and the leader throughout. Nearing the far turn, Commissioner began to
inch closer to the pacesetters along the rail but remained boxed in around the
bend. Forced to go wide, the colt began to wear down the second choice – Souper
Lucky – in a remarkable display of determination. In the very final stages of
the races, Souper Lucky began to resurge, but Commissioner repelled this
rival’s rally, crossing the wire a head in front. Those two finished an
astounding 22 ½ lengths clear of the third-place finisher.
Commissioner was kept away from the races for four months, returning as a
newly-turned three-year-old on January 3 at Gulfstream Park. Facing winners for
the first time, Commissioner took on six competitors, including a colt that has
become one of the most highly regarded horses on the Derby trail in Top Billing. Exhibiting much more speed
than he had in his previous races, Commissioner immediately joined the leaders
as the field raced into the clubhouse turn of the nine-furlong allowance
optional claiming contest, leading the field in the initial furlong. However,
he allowed two rivals to pass him as he settled into third along the rail
shortly after entering the backstretch. Racing only about two lengths off the
leader down the backstretch as a slow pace was set, Commissioner allowed the
leader to lengthen the distance between them as the field entered the far turn.
However, he then began to pick up the pace as Jose Lezcano guided him to the
outside to maneuver around the frontrunners.
Entering the homestretch, Commissioner continued to steer around the leaders
but in doing so, he made contact with Top Billing. Despite this, those two
began to draw clear of the others, racing neck and neck in the final sixteenth
of a mile. But Commissioner dug in, finding more as he edged away to win by a
neck. However, it must be pointed out that he was carrying four pounds less than
Commissioner is a member of the final crop of legendary racehorse and sire A.P.
Indy. One of the most successful sires in recent history, A.P. Indy has sired
the winners of some of the most important races in North America, including the
Belmont Stakes (gr. I, 12F), Travers Stakes (gr. I, 10F), Kentucky Oaks (gr. I,
9F), and Queen’s Plate (10F). However, the Kentucky Derby has eluded his
offspring and this year is the last possible year one of his foals can wear the
garland of red roses.
A.P. Indy’s lack of Derby winners is certainly not due to an inability to pass
on stamina to his progeny. A winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I, 10F)
and Belmont Stakes, stamina was clearly not an issue for A.P. Indy. And it
certainly is not an issue for his offspring, either. An abundance of A.P. Indy
sons and daughters have found immense success at distances of ten furlongs or
longer, including 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, who won a pair of grade
ones at a mile and one-quarter; 2006 Champion Three-Year-Old Male Bernardini,
who also captured two grade ones at ten-furlongs; 2007 Champion Three-Year-Old
Filly Rags to Riches, who outdueled two-time Horse of the Year Curlin to win
the mile and one-half Belmont Stakes; Music Note, who won the ten-furlong
Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) by eleven lengths; Tomisue’s Delight, who won
the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I) at ten furlongs; and Eye of the Leopard,
who conquered the first leg of Canada’s Triple Crown, the Queen’s Plate, at ten
Commissioner’s dam, Flaming Heart, was a two-time stakes winner who won up to a
mile and one-sixteenth. Her most successful foal to date is Laugh Track, a
graded stakes winner who finished second in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr.
I). While this may indicate that Commissioner’s dam side is primarily
speed-influenced, don’t be fooled. Flaming Heart is a daughter of Belmont Stakes
winner Touch Gold, who has quickly found success as a broodmare sire, producing
the dams of ten graded stakes winners, including the multiple grade one winner
Emollient, who has won up to ten furlongs.
Commissioner is inbred 4 X 4 to Buckpasser, a Hall of Famer and major stamina
influence. Inbreeding to this all-time great, particularly in A.P. Indy
offspring, has been very successful, as more than twenty A.P. Indy foals inbred
to Buckpasser have won at the stakes level. Inbreeding to Buckpasser is found in the
pedigrees of many horses that have found success at classic distances,
including Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver.
While Commissioner has not yet competed in a stakes race, he has one thing
going for him that many Derby prospects do not: he has a stamina-based pedigree
that has shone through in his performances on the track. Obviously, he needs to
step up his game and prove himself at a higher level, but Commissioner could be
destined for big success.