05/24/2012 12:58PM

Hollywood Park: Smith gets reacquainted with American Handicap favorite Mr. Commons


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The last few weeks have kept jockey Mike Smith on the road for the Triple Crown and away from his weekly appointment to work the turf miler Mr. Commons.

For Smith, Saturday’s $150,000 American Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park will be a chance to get reacquainted with Mr. Commons for the first time in a race since early March. It is a partnership he hopes will flourish in coming months, as the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita in November slowly draws closer.

“I worked him before the Triple Crown and he worked dynamite,” Smith said. “He’s getting better with age. He seems to be.”

Trained by John Shirreffs for Ian Banwell, Mr. Commons was a neck away from a perfect season at Santa Anita, finishing second in his third and final start of the meeting, the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile on March 3.

Earlier at that meeting, Mr. Commons won two one-mile stakes on turf – the Grade 2 Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds in December and the Grade 2 Arcadia Stakes against older horses in early February.

Shirreffs considers the American Handicap as a prep for the $300,000 Shoemaker Mile on turf on June 30.

Those recent credentials will make Mr. Commons a strong favorite in the Grade 2 American Handicap, which has drawn a solid field of 11. There are three other 2012 stakes winners in the field – Compari (Sensational Star Stakes at Santa Anita in January), Calimonco (Sidd Finch Stakes at Santa Anita in April), and Mobilized (Tiznow Stakes at Hollywood Park in April).

Compari was third in the Kilroe Mile, leading to the eighth pole before finishing 1 1/4 lengths behind race winner Willyconker and a length behind Mr. Commons.

Calimonco did not start in the Kilroe. After the Sidd Finch, he finished fourth in the Grade 3 San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate Fields on April 28. Calimonco was beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Hudson Landing in a race in which circumstances went against him, trainer John Sadler said.

Mario Gutierrez rode Calimonco and had the 6-year-old horse in third with a furlong remaining.

“He moved a little too soon,” Sadler said. “He has a one-run style.”

Sadler describes Mr. Commons as a “prohibitive” favorite.

Shirreffs said that the nearly three-month break since the Kilroe Mile has benefited Mr. Commons.

“He’s had a little time off,” Shirreffs said. “This gets us to the Shoemaker, hopefully.”

A winner of 5 of 12 starts and $623,660, Mr. Commons has shown improvement since a troubled fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs last November, Shirreffs said.

“That race went a long way to develop him in the sense of being in a tough spot,” Shirreffs said. “He’s pretty solid. It’s time to gear him back up.”

In addition, race conditions should suit Mr. Commons. The presence of Compari, Barney Rebel, and Liberian Freighter should ensure a decent pace. Smith hopes to have Mr. Commons in midpack, a style that has worked in the past. He knows that the 4-year-old colt can rally, when needed.

“He’s got a great turn of foot,” Smith said.