09/16/2008 11:00PM

Forest Command jumps to stakes


BOSSIER CITY, La. - Forest Command will make his stakes debut in just his fourth career start Saturday in the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby, but with a pedigree like his, the move is to be expected. He is a son of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos and the Grade 1-winning mare Forest Secrets.

"Those are kind of two jewels in a row right there, so this horse has got every license to be a top racehorse," said John Ward, who trains Forest Command for John Oxley.

Forest Command, a winner of 2 of his 3 career races, could start as the second choice in the Super Derby behind Macho Again. He punched his ticket to the race last month, when he won a $75,000 optional claimer over older horses at Saratoga on Aug. 9. Forest Command pulled away by six lengths and for the effort earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 96, which is the best last-race number in the Super Derby.

"We've been watching the division the last month, and you know, if you do well, your opportunities are limited to run against 3-year-olds, so the Super Derby would always be on our horizon for a fall race for us," Ward said. "Both my wife and I have just seen a tremendous ability in him. He just does things that kind of amaze you."

Ward said he sees traits of both Monarchos and Forest Secrets in Forest Command. He said the bay colt takes after his dam looks-wise and after his sire attitude-wise. Ward trained both Monarchos, who also won the Florida Derby, and Forest Secrets, a multiple graded stakes winner of $604,453. They were each in the 3-year-old crop of 2001.

"Both of them were Grade 1 winners we raced," Ward said, referring to owners John and Debby Oxley. "And the interesting thing about it is Monarchos won the Derby, and then five weeks later, Forest Secrets won the Acorn at Belmont."

Forest Command did not launch his career until June, when he finished second by a head in a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs. He came back in his next start for a 1 3/4-length win in another maiden special weight at seven furlongs at Churchill on July 4. He earned a Beyer of 98.

"Last year, he was ready to run at Saratoga and he ended up kicking a stall screen, which cost us a pretty good amount of time," Ward said. "He chipped a hock, and we had to operate on him. So, that delayed him. But this year, he's done everything you could ask."

Lots of Super Derby winners return

The field for this year's Super Derby is loaded with owners, trainers, and jockeys who have won past runnings of the race. In fact, the teams of the race's last two winners, Strong Contender in 2006 and Going Ballistic in 2007, are both represented with starters in 2008.

Oxley, Ward, and jockey Robby Albardo won with Strong Contender and are back with Forest Command. Kindred Thoroughbreds, trainer Donnie Von Hemel, and jockey Cliff Berry upset odds-on favorite Grasshopper last year with Going Ballistic and are back with Numismatist.

As for riders, there are five in this year's race who have won past runnings of the Super Derby. In addition to Albarado and Berry, the list includes Pat Valenzuela, the rider of Mambo Meister who won the Super Derby in 1989 with Sunday Silence; Kent Desormeaux, the rider of Macho Again who won the Super Derby in 1994 with Soul of the Matter; and Gerard Melancon, the rider of Real Appeal who won the Super Derby in 2004 with Fantasticat.

Phil Gleaves joins Ward and Von Hemel as past winning trainers of the Super Derby. He took the race in his second year as a trainer in 1986, with Wise Times.