11/11/2006 1:00AM

Arbuckle Bandit fastest at Commonwealth finish


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A torrid late surge carried Arbuckle Bandit just past Storm Treasure at the finish of the $169,800 Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

Ridden by Brice Blanc, Arbuckle Bandit prevailed by a head in a frantic finish in the 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds. Storm Treasure finished another head in front of Kingship, while Outperformance, the 8-5 favorite, was another neck back in fourth.

Arbuckle Bandit, owned by Golden Racing Stable and trained by Mike Stidham, returned $23.80 as sixth choice after finishing in 1:44.19 over a course rated good. A Kentucky-bred by Service Stripe, he now has won 5 of 12 starts, failing to earn a check only once.

Costa Rising set most of the pace before being overtaken by his closest pursuer, Kingship, once the field straightened for home. Outperformance launched a sustained bid, and then Storm Treasure made a big run to loom the most likely winner as the wire drew near - but then a furious outside rally by Arbuckle Bandit, who had had only one horse beaten in the far turn, overtook them all just in the nick of time.

The race lost its morning-line favorite early in the day when trainer Neil Howard scratched Brilliant, leaving a field of 10.

"He tied up just a little bit [Friday morning], and although he galloped just fine [Saturday], I didn't want to take any chances," said Howard.

* Minefield ($5.20) made a highly impressive return to action when he passed all six of his rivals for a 3 3/4-length triumph in a seven-furlong, entry-level allowance for 2-year-olds. Minefield, a Silver Deputy colt trained by Todd Pletcher, had been an easy winner in his only previous start, a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race at Churchill in May.

* Leading rider Calvin Borel rode three winners on the card.