10/13/2006 11:00PM

Pletcher equals Lukas's record

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Todd Pletcher equaled trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ mark for stakes wins in a season when Master Command scored a front-running victory Friday night in the Grade 2, $499,000 Meadowlands Breeders’ Cup Stakes.

Pletcher, a former Lukas assistant, tied his mentor with 92 stakes victories. Lukas set the mark in 1987.

"It’s a great milestone," Pletcher said. "It was a record I didn’t think anyone could get close to."

Pletcher set the single-season earnings record last weekend.

Pletcher got his second Meadowlands Cup win to go along with Balto Star’s victory in 2004.

John Velazquez, Pletcher’s main rider, was aboard for his fourth Meadowlands Cup victory. Velazquez also won on K.J’s Appeal in 1998, Gander in 2001 and Balto Star. The four wins ties the stakes record held by Angel Cordero Jr., Velazquez’ agent.

Velazquez wound up with three winners on the night.

Master Command ($6.80) ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.21 on the fast track to beat Wild Desert by 1 1/4 lengths with Awesome Twist a distant third.

Early fractions were the key to the race as Master Command, third last time out in the Iselin Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park, got away with an opening quarter of 24.06 seconds

"We wanted to come out of there running," Velazquez said. "We want to have good position going into the first turn. We inherited the lead going slow. I just kept him busy from then on and he responded for me."

Pletcher was happy to see that first fraction.

"This has always run his best when he’s into the race early," he said. "I didn’t think we’d get away with that."

Wild Desert, stalking in second throughout, picked up the chase in earnest midway on the second turn. Master Command felt his pressure until kicking clear in the final sixteenth of a mile.

Pletcher had no immediate plans for Master Command. He did not rule out a possible run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but that was not the goal coming into the Meadowlands Cup.

"We’ll kind of savor this one for the moment," Pletcher said. "We weren’t really using it as a Breeders’ Cup prep but he sure ran well and we’re pleased with that."

Pletcher said a final decision will be made after a conversation with owners Aaron and Marie Jones.

It was disappointing race by Park Avenue Ball, the Iselin winner and one of the all-time leading New Jersey breds. He ran fifth as the slight 2-1 favorite of the crowd of 7,909 after a slow break that put him in an early shuffle.

"He didn’t break well tonight and that made all the difference," said trainer Jim Ryerson. "After that he was forced to chase and that’s not his game."

* Haddie Be Good, in her debut in a turf sprint, surged to a two-length victory in the $55,000 P.G. Johnson Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Trained by John Hennig and ridden by Jose Velez, Jr, Haddie Be Good ($38.60) ran the five furlongs in 56.99 on the good course.

* Phil Serpe, the Big M’s leading trainer in 1988, won the $60,000 John Henry Stakes on the turf with longshot Rousing Victory ($25.40).

The 5-year-old rallied from eighth to get up by a length over Dave. Cornelio Velasquez was aboard as Rousing Victory posted his first win in over a year. The time was 2:17.78 for the 1 3/8 miles.