09/22/2016 2:16PM

Goldberg hopeful Force the Pass can overcome post 12 in Commonwealth Turf Cup

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Barbara D. Livingston
A clean trip may be all Force the Pass needs to win the Grade 2 Commonwealth Turf Cup.

Last year, Force the Pass ranked among the best 3-year-old turf horses in North America. He won the Grade 1, $1.25 million Belmont Derby Invitational and managed to finish third in the Grade 1 Secretariat despite breaking in the air and racing far behind the walking pace of the victorious Highland Reel.

No wonder Alan Goldberg, who trains Force the Pass for Richard Santulli’s Colts Neck Stable, had high hopes for Force the Pass’s 2016 campaign. But those hopes have been dashed by a series of unfortunate events, and Force the Pass comes into Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Commonwealth Turf Cup winless in four starts this year. The tough luck that has dogged the colt all season carried over to the post-position draw for this one-mile grass race, with Force the Pass marooned in post 12.

That draw in one-mile grass races at Laurel Park has produced six winners from 87 starters since 2000. So, Force the Pass is not impossibly posted, and finally, Goldberg thinks that Force the Pass has come right.

“There’s no horse in America doing any better,” Goldberg said Thursday. “Right now, he’s as good as he’s been in his life. There’s no excuses. If he doesn’t run any good, he’s maybe not as good as I thought.”

Force the Pass was a troubled third in the Appleton Stakes at Gulfstream to start his campaign. Goldberg said he came out of that race well enough, but soft turf for the Fort Marcy nixed one potential start, and then Force the Pass got sick while being pointed to the Dixie Stakes on the Preakness undercard. He had another infection this summer in New York, had an intended start at Saratoga canceled after Lasix had been administered – one thing after another.

“He just hasn’t been good the whole year,” Goldberg said. “Things haven’t worked out like we hoped.”

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Force the Pass doesn’t always break well from inside draws, but Goldberg said he starts alertly when posted outside, and he hopes Jose Ortiz will use Force the Pass’s tactical speed to get position. “I think you have to go a little bit from there, maybe sit third or fourth,” he said.

At his best, and with a decent trip, Force the Pass wins this race.

Blacktype shows steadily ascendant form, and when last seen in July, he scored a game win in the Grade 3 Oceanport at Monmouth, but he might not be at his very best Saturday.

“He was supposed to run at Saratoga, but we gave him a bit of time, and he’s coming back to form now,” trainer Christophe Clement said. “I think he’s fit enough to run. When he’s right, he’s a top horse.”

Farhaan was claimed from the second of consecutive Saratoga turf wins for $40,000 claimers, and his new connections ran him right back in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch. Farhaan rallied solidly from the rear of the field that day and closed steadily on the leading trio to finish a close fourth, a performance that puts him within shouting distance of an upset Saturday if he can repeat it. Flatlined was a game winner of a restricted stakes at Kentucky Downs last out but is back on short rest while up in class.

◗ Laurel offers a 50-cent pick five on races 7 through 11 Saturday, and with potential standouts in two of those races, $60,000 stakes for Virginia-breds, the sequence might be manageable on a modest budget.

In the Oakley Stakes, race 9, a female-restricted turf sprint, Rapid Rhythm easily is the most likely winner. In from Arlington for trainer Mike Stidham, Rapid Rhythm faced the likes of Lady Shipman two starts back and on Sept. 10 finished a solid second in the $278,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint. This 5 1/2-furlong distance is on the short side for Rapid Rhythm, but a look at the competition suggests she should be along in time.

Race 10, the Bert Allen for older horses going 1 1/16 miles on turf, has an even stronger favorite in Rose Brier. Rose Brier chased the sharp Watchyourownbobber last out, finishing a close second on a speed-biased Mountaineer turf course in an open, $100,000 stakes, and has since worked sharply at Monmouth for trainer Jane Cibelli. He won this race last year by two lengths at odds of 4-5.

But race 8, the $60,000 Jamestown for Virginia-bred 2-year-old turf sprinters, is surely a spot to spread and look for a price. The race has little established form, and its 8-5 morning-line favorite, Hold Me Black, has made two starts on dirt, none on turf.

The first stakes on the card is race 3, the $60,000 Punch Line for Virginia-bred turf sprinters. The 9-year-old Two Notch Road, a poor man’s Ben’s Cat, finished second three weeks ago in the Grade 3 Turf Monster and will be favored to win the Punch Line for the second year in a row.

The Brookmeade, race 4, is for older female Virginia-bred turf-route horses and has nothing close to a solid favorite among its 10 entrants.