10/04/2012 4:13PM

Hastings: Commander could use Premiers as launchpad to Breeders' Cup Marathon

Four-Footed Fotos
Commander earned his career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 100 in his dominating win in the $50,000 S. W. Randall Plate at Hastings on Sept. 9.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – If Commander wins the Grade 3, $100,000 Premiers as expected at Hastings on Monday, he will be heading to Santa Anita to run in the Grade 2, $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon Nov. 3.

It is hard to say just how good Commander really is. He is going into the Premiers off five straight stakes wins, and in his last three races – which he won by a combined total of 24 lengths – he really hasn’t been asked to run.

Commander also earned his career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 100 in his dominating win in the $50,000 S. W. Randall Plate going 1 1/8 miles at Hastings Sept. 9.

There is a big difference between winning the Randall at 1 1/8 miles and being able to go 1 3/8 miles in the Grade 3 Premiers, let alone 1 3/4 miles in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. Nonetheless, Commander looks like a horse who can run all day, and clearly the bottom hasn’t been tapped. He couldn’t have looked any better when he worked five furlongs in 59.60 seconds with exercise rider Cenek Kottnauer aboard last Sunday.

“He really couldn’t be doing any better,” said his trainer Troy Taylor. “He is going to get a real test on Monday, and if he passes it we’re going to give him a shot at bigger things.”

Taylor was high on Commander when he arrived at his barn year as a potential British Columbia Derby prospect last year. He ran a good race, finishing fourth in the Grade 3 race and then fourth again in the Premiers. He never really lived up to his potential until he was gelded following a last-place finish in a $50,000 optional race at Golden Gate Feb. 25. According to Taylor, Commander was also fighting off “possum disease,” properly known as equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, or EPM, when he ran at Golden Gate.

“It was new to us, and the vet said he would be okay to run if we treated him, but it didn’t work out,” said Taylor. “We wanted to give him a break, so we decided to geld him, too. He was just a handful to work with.”

In his first start following the surgery he rallied from last to win the $50,000 Journal at Northlands Park going six furlongs June 23. He easily won the next three stakes at Northlands before his impressive showing in the Randall. His win in the Randall finally convinced his owner, Glen Todd, that he could be the real deal. Todd ranked him as the third-best horse in his stable behind Taylor Said, who won the Grade 3 Longacres Mile, and St. Liams Halo.

On Todd’s recommendation, Mario Gutierrez rode St. Liams Halo in the Randall instead of Commander. Gutierrez was aboard Commander in his three previous wins at Northlands.

“The last person I wanted to see after the Randall was Mario,” said Todd. “I just didn’t think he was beating much at Northlands, so I thought St. Liams Halo was better. He’s changed my mind now. Just watch the replay of the Randall. He never gets out of a gallop.”

If Commander does win the Premiers and runs in the Breeders’ Cup, it will top off a remarkable season for Todd. Horses owned or partially owned by him have won 23 stakes races this year.

“It has been an unbelievable year, and I can’t imagine we will ever be able to repeat it,” said Todd.

Taylor, who is 81, has been a big part of Todd’s success. He told Todd, who is 65 and counts himself lucky to be alive, that he needs to slow down and cut back on horses. Five years ago Todd came close to dying because of complications resulting from treatment for an enlarged prostate.

“I was in a coma for about five or six weeks, and nobody thought I was going to come out of it,” said Todd. “They called everyone in twice to tell them I wasn’t going to make it. My kidneys were starting to shut down until Doctor No. 50 came along and told them they were killing me with the wrong treatment. He told them to give me sugar and antibiotics, and I woke up the next day.”

The near-death experience convinced Todd to slow down at work and spend some of the considerable amount of money he made as a customs broker on horse racing. Since then he has been the leading owner at Hastings.

“I have loved the sport since I was a kid and still love everything about it,” said Todd. “I actually agreed with Troy when he said we need to slow down. But he kept putting up his hand when we were at Keeneland a few weeks ago, and now we have 28 yearlings to sort out.”

A big part of Todd’s fond memories this year was the success of Mario Gutierrez aboard I’ll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Todd has been a second father to Gutierrez since Gutierrez arrived at Hastings in 206.

“The wins were nice, but what really made me proud was the way he handled his success,” said Todd. “He’s really matured, and I just couldn’t be more proud of him.”

The only thing that could top what has already been a remarkable season would be Gutierrez guiding Commander to a win in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon.

“That’s the kind of thing we dream about,” said Todd.