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Baffert flip-flops to Dwyer
ELMONT, N.Y. - On second thought, maybe the Dwyer is the better spot for Roman Ruler's return to the races.
Trainer Bob Baffert scratched Roman Ruler from a seven-furlong allowance race on Wednesday at Belmont Park and is now pointing the 3-year-old to Monday's Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes here. Roman Ruler, a multiple graded stakes winner at 2, has battled foot problems most of the year, limiting him to one start at 3, a last-place finish in the Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 19.
On Wednesday, Roman Ruler worked six furlongs in 1:13.10 in company with True North Handicap winner Woke Up Dreamin. John Velazquez was in the irons for the work.
"I didn't feel right about running him in the allowance. It was way too tough," Baffert said Wednesday from Southern California. "The horse is doing well. I wanted to see how he worked today. Everybody said he worked extremely well. We'll go ahead and take a shot at the Dwyer. We know he's a good horse, there's no doubt about that. There are no easy spots. If he runs well there I could maybe go in the Haskell. It's the same thing I did with Forestry."
In 1999, Forestry won the Dwyer before finishing third in the Haskell. Following, the Haskell, Forestry won the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga.
Baffert said he didn't have a confirmed rider for Roman Ruler. The Dwyer, run at 1 1/16 miles, is expected to draw Peter Pan winner Oratory, Lane's End winner Flower Alley, Middle Earth, Biloxi Palace, and Mr. Congeniality. Freedom Isn't Free and United are possible.
Commentator cruises in allowance
Baffert probably made the right call passing the allowance race as Commentator, a stakes-winning New York-bred, rolled to a 16 1/2-length victory under Channing Hill, nearly breaking the track record in the process.
Commentator, making his first start since sustaining a shin injury in the Jan. 8 Hal's Hope Handicap, ran seven furlongs in 1:20.23, just .06 seconds off the track record set by Left Bank in the 2002 Tom Fool Handicap.
Commentator was in hand through fractions of 22.38 seconds and 44.77. In upper stretch, Hill began a vigorous hand ride and maintained it to the wire.
"I was trying to get to the wire first," Hill said. "I didn't want to hit him. I just wanted to ride him out."
Trainer Nick Zito, who watched the race from Saratoga, said he was very impressed with the race and had no problems with Hill's apparent overzealousness.
"I don't think he did anything wrong," Zito said. "At least he didn't use the stick."
It was the sixth win from seven career starts for Commentator, a 4-year-old son of Distorted Humor. Commentator is 6 for 6 in races at a mile or less, with his six wins by a combined 58 3/4 lengths.
Zito said that Commentator would likely make his next start at Saratoga. Zito's main goal for Commentator is likely the Grade 1 Forego on Sept. 3. The Grade 2, $200,000 Vanderbilt at six furlongs on Aug. 13 is the prep for the Forego.
Smokume wins Artax
Smokume bounced back from a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 True North Handicap by winning Wednesday's $58,800 Artax, an overnight handicap, by 2 3/4 lengths over Thunder Touch.
The victory was one of two on the card for jockey Chantal Sutherland, who entered the day 1 for 50 in New York since arriving here in April. She had been 0 for 44 at Belmont.
Smokume put away a pace challenge from Summer Service after a half-mile in 45.14 seconds and had more than enough to hold off Thunder Touch despite drifting out through the lane. Smokume, 4-year-old gelded son of Smoke Glacken, covered the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.05 over a sealed track rated good. He returned $5 to win.
Mr. Light may skip Poker
Trainer Angel Penna was unhappy with the weight assignments for Sunday's Grade 3, $100,000 Poker Handicap and is considering shipping Mr. Light to Kentucky for this weekend's $200,000 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Mr. Light, who is credited with setting a world record for a mile on turf when he won an allowance race at Gulfstream in 1:31.41, was assigned 117 pounds for the Poker. Penna's beef is that his horse picks up three pounds off the last handicap race he ran in while other horses are picking up one pound off their most recent handicaps.
"I'm not complaining about the 117, I'm complaining about the procedure," Penna said. "Everybody else picked up one pound. It doesn't matter if it's a Grade 2 winner, a multiple graded stakes winner or what. He won his first Grade 3 by an absolutely convincing half-length and I get three pounds off that? And, I just got beat after that. It's inconsistent. Thank God there are options out there."
Penna is also concerned about the potential for a soft turf course. The Belmont turf courses were rated good on Wednesday - it rained midway through the card - and thunderstorms were in the forecast through Friday.
Mr O'Brien, who won the Kelso Handicap here last fall, was assigned 120 pounds for the Poker. Trainer Robin Graham said earlier this week that she planned to run Mr O'Brien in the $60,000 Da Hoss Stakes at Colonial Downs on July 9.
Ecclesiastic, upset winner of the Jaipur, is expected to be the starting highweight in the Poker at 119 pounds. Others pointing to the race are Gulch Approval, Remind, Trade Fair, L'Oiseau d'Argent, and Willard Straight. Saint Stephen and Package Storm are possible.
Sauvage out of New York Handicap
Sauvage, winner of the Sheepshead Bay Handicap, was declared out of Saturday's Grade 2 New York Handicap with a bruised foot, trainer Tom Albertrani said.
Albertrani said the injury wasn't serious, but Sauvage was forced to miss several days of training.
"Hopefully, we'll have her back to the track in a few days," Albertrani said.
New York Handicap probable Wend, who is undefeated in four starts on turf, worked four furlongs in 47.23 seconds, handily, over the Belmont Park training track on Wednesday. It was the fastest of 10 works at the distance.
Commercante, winner of the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor last October, has been retired from racing due to a tendon injury, trainer Bobby Frankel confirmed Wednesday.
Frankel said the injury was detected following Commercante's most recent work, a six-furlong move in 1:15.16 over Belmont Park's main track. Frankel said it took a nuclear scan to locate a hole in the tendon.
"Strawberries today, jam tomorrow," Frankel said. "She never had even been close to a tendon [injury]."
Frankel was pointing Commercante for a return in the Diana Stakes at Saratoga on July 30.
"Johnny [Velazquez] had worked her the time before and was really excited that we were running in the Diana," Frankel said.
High Limit, Sis City work
High Limit, the Louisiana Derby winner who finished last in the Kentucky Derby, worked five furlongs in 1:00.87 Wednesday morning. Frankel said he is pointing High Limit to the $300,000 Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park on July 17.
"I want to get a win into him," Frankel said when asked why he chose the Leonard Richards.
Frankel is pointing Sis City to the $750,000 Delaware Oaks on July 16. On Wednesday, Sis City was credited with a six-furlong work in 1:17.02. Frankel said that a horse got loose in front of Sis City during the latter part of the work and jockey Edgar Prado "couldn't let her finish."
Frankel worked Aristocrat, a full-brother to Ghostzapper, four furlongs in 47.88 seconds over Belmont's main track on Wednesday. Aristocrat, who just arrived from Southern California, has run only once, finishing fourth in a maiden race here last October.