07/21/2011 12:42PM

Del Mar: Mr. Commons solidifies credentials for Del Mar Derby


DEL MAR, Calif. – Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith was left so enthused by a five-furlong workout from Mr. Commons at Hollywood Park on July 13 that he was tempted to describe the colt as the “new Lure,” a reference to the two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Smith rode in the early 1990s.

Because Mr. Commons was without a stakes win at the time, Smith backed off from that comparison, but his enthusiasm for Mr. Commons’s future was evident. After Wednesday’s $112,100 Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar, Smith’s outlook had not changed, and this time he had more to brag about. Mr. Commons won his stakes debut on turf in the Oceanside, a race that may lead to a start in the $250,000 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 4.

“I’ve been excited about him since the first time I got on him,” Smith said. “He moves so much better on grass, but he’s so talented he can run on anything.”

Favored in the Oceanside, Mr. Commons ($4.20) closed from seventh in a field of nine with a four-wide rally entering the stretch to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Burns in 1:34.96.

“I felt so comfortable the first time under the wire,” Smith said. “I didn’t know if we’d win, but I was comfortable.”

The performance was not unlike the workout when Smith did not ask Mr. Commons for a run until the final quarter-mile.

The Oceanside was Mr. Commons’s first start since an eighth-place finish in the Preakness Stakes on May 21 when he was ridden by Victor Espinoza. Earlier this year, Smith rode Mr. Commons three times – a win on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita in January, a win in an allowance race in late February, and a third in the Santa Anita Derby.

John Shirreffs trains Mr. Commons for Ian Banwell’s St. George Farm Racing. A colt by Artie Schiller, who won the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile, Mr. Commons has won 3 of 6 starts and $253,660.

The Oceanside was the first of three stakes for 3-year-olds on turf during the Del Mar meeting, followed by the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on Aug. 13 and the Del Mar Derby over 1 1/8 miles. Shirreffs did not commit to either race after the Oceanside, but Smith is eager for another afternoon with Mr. Commons.

“He just gives me that good feeling,” Smith said. “He’s just got so many gears.”

Good opening day for Stra, Sutherland

Jockeys Kayla Stra and Chantal Sutherland and trainer Vann Belvoir won for the first time at Del Mar on Wednesday.

Stra, 26, rode King Ledley ($18) to an upset in the second race, a claimer on turf. The win was her sixth of the year, all in Southern California, and came before a record ontrack crowd of 46,588 on opening day.

“Forget the people, I want to win,” she said. “For a list of things to do, [winning on opening day] is on it, of course.”

Sutherland rode Belvoir’s Mentidoso ($38.40) to an upset from well off the pace in the sixth race, a $25,000 claimer over six furlongs. Sutherland, 35, is riding at Del Mar on a full-time basis for the first time this year, having previously ridden at Woodbine in the summers. Both tracks have a Polytrack synthetic surface.

She hinted that her experience at Woodbine, especially with closers, could work on Del Mar’s surface.

“It’s just like Woodbine,” she said. “I’m going to do what I do when I’m at home. I don’t know if you can rush them off their feet.”

Belvoir, a former rider, brought 16 horses to Del Mar from his base at Emerald Downs in Washington for the first time this year. Wednesday, Belvoir had four starts, lost two via claim, including Mentidoso, and later claimed a horse. “He had some pretty good numbers,” Belvoir said of Mentidoso.

Belvoir, 37, said he was unsure if he would bring additional horses from Emerald to Del Mar this summer.

“I’ve got 50 in Seattle, but I don’t know how many will fit here,” he said.

Weemissfrankie earns shot at Debutante

Weemissfrankie won her debut in a maiden race over five furlongs on Wednesday and will be pointed for the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 3, trainer Peter Eurton said.

“If she runs as well as she did today, it will be a no-brainer,” Eurton said of the seven-furlong Debutante.

Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Weemissfrankie rallied from seventh in a field of 10 to win by a half-length, finishing in 58.39 seconds.

Weemissfrankie is named for the late Frank Alesia, whose widow, Sharon, is part of the partnership that owns the filly.

Slight decline in Hollywood Park figures

Hollywood Park announced on Wednesday final attendance and handle figures for its spring-summer meeting that ended last Sunday.

All-sources average handle was $9,251,001, a decline of 2 percent from the average of $9,475,894 in 2010. Average ontrack handle at Hollywood Park and Southern California simulcasting locations was $4,763,002, down 1 percent from 2010.

◗ Del Mar launches a head-to-head wager in Saturday’s Grade 1 Eddie Read Stakes featuring Acclamation and Caracortado. The bet will be offered on Saturday’s feature race during the meeting and has a takeout of 10 percent. Track officials are hoping for pools in excess of $25,000.