04/20/2007 11:00PM

Master Command all alone

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Imagine a world, you aspiring jockeys in the crowd, where you could ride like it was a match race. You've got one horse to beat, nothing else to worry about. That was the world of John Velazquez on Saturday afternoon at Hawthorne Race Course. Granted, there were four horses in the Grade 3, $250,000 National Jockey Club Handicap, but two were filler, and Velazquez, aboard favored Master Command, had only Sweetnorthernsaint as a concern.

"I was told to stay right next to the horse," said Velazquez,

No matter that Sweetnorthernsaint was winging on a fast pace (46.86 seconds to the half-mile) that might sap Master Command in late stretch. Those other two horses, Le Jester and Courthouse, were miles behind after a half-mile; the match race that appeared on paper was unfolding on the track.

Only it wasn't much of a race at all. Once the bell rang, Master Command, unbeaten in three starts this year, always appeared to be running more comfortably than Sweetnorthernsaint, and when Velazquez asked Master Command to take the lead about three furlongs from the finish, that was that.

"[Master Command] was always going better than me," said Mario Pino, Sweetnorthernsaint's jockey, who said a stumble at the gate didn't affect his chances. "The horse was too good for me - today, at least."

Master Command, who easily won the Mineshaft and New Orleans handicaps to start his year, wound up 3 3/4 lengths on top at the finish. It was another, oh, 37 lengths or so back to Le Jester in third. Courthouse brought up the rear - and earned almost $17,000 in so doing. Master Command ($2.80) ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.47. Show wagering was cancelled because of the short field.

Velazquez said he tapped Master Command in the stretch to keep him interested late. There was no competition this time for the 5-year-old horse, owned by Aaron and Marie Jones, but trainer Todd Pletcher said last week that Master Command could use the NJC Cap as a springboard to the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on June 16 at Churchill. There, Velazquez might even have to look back.

Sixty Sails: Kettleoneup overtakes fading speed

Trainer Mike Tomlinson is based in Kentucky, but he runs the occasional horse at Hawthorne, and knew what he was looking at when the half-mile split in the Sixty Sails Handicap popped up. The timer read 46.78 seconds to the half, a testing pace, and Kettleoneup, Tomlinson's horse for the Sixty Sails, was nowhere near it.

"We had put blinkers on her to try and keep her from falling too far back, but when I saw the fractions, I thought we were in a good spot," Tomlinson said.

Kettleoneup didn't run completely straight in the stretch, and had to avoid an even more erratic course taken by My Chickadee, but as the speed wilted, Kettleoneup kept coming, and at the finish she was in front by 3 3/4 lengths. Rolling Sea, part of the early pace, held third, with Mo Cuishle fourth and Coolwind fifth. Kettleoneup ($7.40) was timed in 1:50.89 for 1 1/8 miles.

Victory in the Grade 3, $250,000 Sixty Sails marked the first career stakes win for Kettleoneup, a Victory Gallop filly bred and owned by Tom Crouch. She had narrowly missed in her last start, the Grade 3 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn, and was beaten a head by the Todd Pletcher-trained India. But on Saturday, Pletcher's horse, even-money favorite Mo Cuishle, merely served as Kettleoneup's pacemaker.

Mo Cuishle found herself in a pace tussle with Rolling Sea and Coolwind. Coolwind threw in the towel on the backstretch, but Rolling Sea kept the pressure high, and Mo Cuishle caved at about the quarter pole. Rolling Sea briefly made the lead, but My Chickadee caught her at the eighth pole before being run down in the final half-furlong by jockey Calvin Borel and Kettleoneup.