04/11/2013 2:08PM

Keeneland: Gantry to try Polytrack in Saturday's Grade 3 Commonwealth


Not having raced on a synthetic surface, Gantry might seem at a disadvantage in Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland on the Blue Grass Stakes undercard.

But if he is, so are most of his rivals. Of the five horses facing him – Candyman E, Bind, Big Blue Spirit, Bernie the Maestro, and Handsome Mike – only the latter two horses have raced on a synthetic surface, and Bernie the Maestro is the only winner on such a track.

So, if there has ever been a time for Gantry to try Polytrack, the seven-furlong Commonwealth seems the time.

“He ran very well on firm turf at Belmont” in June 2011, said trainer Ron Faucheux, referring to a race in which the horse ran six furlongs in 1:06.87. “He might be a Poly horse and never tried it. You just never know.”

Although accustomed to racing six furlongs – not the seven furlongs of the Commonwealth – that is partially due to him racing mostly at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Without a chute, six furlongs is the longest sprint Fair Grounds can card on the main track.

In his only race going seven furlongs for his current connections, Gantry ran third in the Churchill Downs Stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard last year, finishing six lengths behind Shackleford in an even effort after a slow start.

[BLUE GRASS STAKES: Get Keeneland PPs, watch video previews]

Winless since taking the Grade 2 Smile Sprint at Calder last summer, Gantry has continued to perform at a high level, aside from an 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Three times this winter at Fair Grounds, he ran second to Delaunay, considered one of the fastest sprinters in the country.

Regular rider Richard Eramia returns in the irons for owner Evelyn Benoit’s Brittlyn Stable.

Candyman E is similar to Gantry in that he has been a successful six-furlong dirt sprinter. The winner of the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash in the fall of 2011, he has started just three times since then due to a foot problem but was sharp in winning the Bensalem Stakes at Parx Racing on March 12.

Candyman E’s trainer, Tony Dutrow, has given him some trials on the synthetic Tapeta surface at Fair Hill in preparation for this race. He said the gelding’s sire, Candy Ride, whose progeny seem to excel on synthetic tracks, influenced the decision to run in the Commonwealth.

Perfect Officer looks to repeat in Shakertown

One race after the Commonwealth, Dutrow has the 3-1 morning-line favorite, Perfect Officer, in the day’s seventh race, the Grade 3 Shakertown Stakes going 5 1/2 furlongs.

An astute claim by owner David A. Ross for $50,000 in March 2011, Perfect Officer has become a top grass sprinter over the past few years while racing against many of the nation’s best.

In a thrilling renewal of the Shakertown last year, he rallied to get up in the final stride and win by a nose, racing 5 1/2 furlongs in a course-record 1:01.53. He followed up that race with a third and two seconds in other stakes.

Unraced since the Aug. 15 Troy Stakes at Saratoga, Perfect Officer will attempt to win the Shakertown off a long layoff, just as he did last year. Javier Castellano rides.

Coincidentally, Regally Ready, the 4-1 co-second choice, also is unraced since the Troy, where he was fifth, 5 3/4 lengths behind runner-up Perfect Officer.

The Troy was one of five losses for Regally Ready in 2012 after a banner 2011 campaign that culminated with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs.

Other major threats in a closely matched Shakertown include Something Extra, Berlino Di Tiger, Havelock, and Next Question.