12/14/2009 12:00AM

Our Commander brightest of lesser lights


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There are some Saturdays when racing is flooded with top-class stakes action - days when a simulcast player has to keep a close eye on a myriad of television screens so as not to miss an important graded stakes race as they fire off in quick succession.

Saturday is not one of those days. There are only two graded stakes races in North America on Saturday - the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap at Aqueduct and Grade 3 Native Diver at Hollywood Park - two races I found relatively unattractive from a wagering perspective.

So digging deeper into some of the lesser stakes Saturday, there were some races that caught my eye, beginning at Laurel Park, which hosts the Maryland Juvenile Championship.

A 7 1/2-furlong dirt race for statebred juveniles, the race is well suited to the strengths of Our Commander, a former claimer who has won two in a row at Laurel.

Beyond the liking he has shown for the track, he comes off his best performance, swooping to a 6 1/2-length victory in a first-level allowance there Oct. 24 that was run under similar conditions.

That race, like the Maryland Juvenile Championship, was a long, one-turn race - though a mile, rather than 7 1/2 furlongs. And Our Commander, breaking from the outside post, flourished in his first attempt in such a race.

He settled comfortably in midpack behind a slow pace, surged four wide around the turn to take command, and easily left favored Delaunay far behind in the stretch.

Now Our Commander is once again drawn on the far outside, and being a horse that runs well with time between starts, he should be primed for a top performance despite not having raced since Oct. 24.

He has trained quickly and consistently over the Laurel track for trainer Gary Capuano, who, according to , has won at a 35 percent clip with juveniles at Laurel Park over the past two years.

Because Our Commander raced for just a maiden $40,000 claiming price two starts ago, my guess is that traditional class handicappers may view him with a degree of skepticism, creating value on this up-and-comer.

Louisiana Champions Day Turf

Turning south to the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, rainy weather could create a favorable wagering opportunity in the Louisiana Champions Day Turf, another statebred contest.

As of Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service was calling for 1 to 3 inches of rain in New Orleans from Friday night through Saturday evening and issued flood warnings in areas surrounding New Orleans.

In other words, the Louisiana Champions Day Turf stands a strong chance of being run on the dirt. Under that scenario, Nowandforevermore would become a good wager, provided he is not bet down considerably from his 9-2 morning-line price.

Although beaten by Desert Wheat in the Mr. Sulu Stakes on turf earlier in the meet, Nowandforevermore has won more often than that rival on dirt and already sports a win over a sloppy Fair Grounds strip, having won in the slop there in December 2006.

Admittedly, he ran poorly in the slop the last time he caught such a surface at Fair Grounds - finishing eighth in such a race this March - but since being claimed that day by trainer Keith Bourgeois and owner Hardy Farms LLC, he has made steady improvement in his form.

Nowandforevermore has won twice this year, and before his runner-up finish to Desert Wheat in the Mr. Sulu, he was third behind Louisiana Champions Day Classic favorite Star Guitar in the Gold Cup on dirt at Delta Downs.

More so than many of his opponents, he seems likely to transfer his sharp turf form to a wet dirt track.

Prairie Bayou Stakes

Lastly, turning to Turfway Park for Saturday's $50,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack, the play is Timeless Fashion.

Since he was all out to win at 2-5 last time out at Churchill in a four-horse field, the hope is that some bettors will look to play others in the race, particularly with other speed horses like him in the lineup.

But this is a horse who can rate and run well. And his draw for the Prairie Bayou is perfect. Outside the other speed, jockey James Lopez can simply let his horse get in rhythm, whether that is on the lead or coming from just off the pace.

Inca King, a graded stakes winner stepping up in class off a claim for $40,000, should draw a good deal of the public's support, making the price respectable on Timeless Fashion. But Inca King has yet to show that he can compete at a stakes level on Polytrack and seems less suited to 1 1/8 miles than Timeless Fashion.

Timeless Fashion warrants play at 2-1 or higher.