06/12/2012 4:14PM

Calder: 1 1/2-year layoff can’t stop Field Commission in Ponche

Coady Photography
In his first race since November 2010, Field Commission wins the Ponche.

MIAMI – Field Commission turned out to be the unlikeliest of heroes on Saturday’s Festival of the Sun preview card.

The 7-year-old Field Commission had not started since November 2010 and had never run on dirt in his 28-race career prior to going postward among the outsiders at 18-1 in Saturday’s $75,000 Ponche Handicap. But the Canadian-bred son of Service Stripe not only proved a convincing winner of the Ponche, which serves as a prep for the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap on July 7, he also established a new stakes record in the process.

Field Commission did all his preparations for his return at the Solera Farm of his owner Edward Seltzer. The farm is located approximately 20 to 25 miles northwest of Ocala, Fla. Field Commission competed in the Ponche under the name of the farm’s longtime manager, Curtis Garrison, a former Quarter Horse trainer, who has worked at Solera for nearly a quarter-century, the last six for Seltzer who purchased the 250-acre property from the family of the late Aubrey Minshall in 2006.

Field Commission was bred by Minshall and has lived on the farm and been under Garrison’s care throughout his career. Field Commission became racing’s latest millionaire with his seventh career victory in the Ponche, more than $330,000 of those earnings coming for his come-from-behind triumph in Woodbine’s Grade 2 Nearctic in 2009.

“He’s been at the farm his whole career, the only time he’d leave would be when he’d go up to Canada for a race,” said Garrison, 50, a native Floridian. “We gave him the time off to get over some minor aches and pains that come with age and from racing over Polytrack surfaces. But even with the long layoff, I was pretty confident he would run well on Saturday. I’d given him plenty of long, slow works trying to get him fit without hurting himself, and in his last couple of works, he went nicely, in hand, and I knew it was time to go.”

Field Commission was ridden to victory in the Ponche by long-time Calder favorite Manny Cruz, who returned locally only last week after having spent the bulk of the past year riding in Kentucky.

Cruz placed Field Commission within easy striking distance of the early leaders during the opening half-mile of the six-furlong Ponche, eased him out to commence his rally entering the stretch, and once in the clear, the result was no longer in doubt. Field Commission readily overtook the tiring Bull Dozer nearing the eighth pole before drawing away to win by more than three lengths.

“The move he made from the quarter pole to the eighth pole was really impressive to me,” Garrison said. “It showed me he can go anywhere right now. Our main goal with this race was to see how he liked the dirt, and now that he’s shown he does, it really opens up a lot of other doors.”

The next logical stop for Field Commission would be the Grade 2 Smile Sprint, which is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

“Obviously, we are seriously considering the Smile,” Garrison said. “The Breeders’ Cup is still a ways off, and he’ll still have to show he can run with that quality of horses before we really start thinking about something like that.”

Garrison said he has nearly 100 horses on the farm, 41 of them currently in training for Seltzer. Field Commission was just the seventh starter and third winner Garrison has sent out during the Calder meet. He also won four races this winter at Tampa Bay Downs.

Cruz move tack to south Florida

Field Commission was one of two stakes races Cruz won on Saturday’s card. He also guided another longshot, Wild Bout Tiffany, to a wire-to-wire victory for trainer Bill Kaplan in the $75,000 U Can Do It Handicap.

“Manny called me out of the blue a little over a week ago and said he wanted to come back home to be able to spend more time with his family,” his agent, Dan Mellul, said. “He said it was just getting too tough going back and forth from Kentucky like he was. Right now, his plans are to stay here throughout the remainder of the year and into the Gulfstream meet next winter.”

◗ Kaplan also was a double winner Saturday, sending out both Wild Bout Tiffany to win the U Can Do It and Another Romance to upset the $75,000 Leave Me Alone. Another Romance returned on just one week’s rest to capture the Leave Me Alone, and Kaplan has entered Wild Bout Tiffany right back for Saturday in the $55,000 Cool Air Stakes on the turf.