04/09/2008 11:00PM

Military Storm fits the pattern


LEXINGTON, Ky. - There is no Midnight Lute, no Commentator, no "name" horses from out West. Despite a $400,000 purse, a Grade 2 ranking, and a history of luring some of the top active sprinters or milers in the game, the Commonwealth Stakes honestly didn't get what might be called a stellar field for its 22nd running Saturday at Keeneland.

That doesn't make it a bad race.

In fact, with the intriguing assortment it did draw, the seven-furlong Commonwealth looks like a highly enjoyable table-setter to the Blue Grass Stakes on a 10-race program. There is no clear-cut favorite, but there are more than a few viable contenders in the field of 10 older horses.

Storm Military, unraced on Polytrack, fits the profile that worked to perfection here earlier this week for trainer Bobby Frankel and jockey Garrett Gomez. In teaming with Ventura to take the Vinery Madison on Wednesday, they scored with a turf specialist with plenty of Polytrack upside - an apt description indeed for Storm Military. In the pre-Polytrack era at Keeneland, Storm Military might well have seemed out of place in the Commonwealth, but considering the way many turf horses take to synthetic surfaces, he seems to fit this spot as well as any.

Frankel has another turf type entered, Thousand Words, although the colt also was entered to run Friday in the Maker's Mark Mile on the turf. If he scratches Friday to go in this spot, he, too, looks like a legitimate player, especially if he can replicate the 104 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in winning on the Santa Anita turf in his last start.

The wealth of potential challengers to the Frankel runners includes Xchanger, a classy gray colt making his first start of 2008 after earning more than $500,000 last year at 3.

"Timing-wise, this is a good spot," said trainer Mark Shuman, noting that recent races in Dubai, along with the Carter at Aqueduct and the Potrero Grande at Santa Anita, helped to deplete the pool of runners available for the Commonwealth. Xchanger, he said, "was a tired horse by the end of last year, so we gave him a little freshening."

Xchanger trains on Tapeta at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. "I've always wanted to try him on the Polytrack," said Shuman. "He's been training great, so we'll see where we are with him Saturday."

Other notables in the Commonwealth field include Buffalo Man, owned in part by the Ol' Memorial Stable of college basketball coach Rick Pitino; Forefathers, who recently returned from a 4 1/2-month layoff to finish a close second in a Gulfstream Park allowance sprint; and Doppio, a California gelding with a 4-for-4 record on the synthetic surfaces at Santa Anita and Hollywood.

The balance of the field is Papa Bear, Elite Squadron, Rebellion, and Medzendeekron.

The Commonwealth, first run in 1987, typically is a springboard for races such as the Churchill Downs Handicap or the Met Mile. The 2007 winner was Silent Name, ridden by Corey Nakatani. Previous winners include such standouts as Black Tie Affair (1990-91), Afternoon Deelites (1996), Orientate (2002), and Sun King (2006).