10/02/2012 12:50PM

Santa Anita: Brice Blanc rewarded with mount on Mr. Commons in Arroyo Seco - and perhaps Breeders' Cup Mile

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Mr. Commons finished second in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile under Brice Blanc, who will ride him in the Arroyo Seco Mile on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. –The drive from Del Mar to Hollywood Park covers about 110 miles and takes less than two hours – if a person leaves early and beats the notorious Los Angeles area traffic.

Jockey Brice Blanc knew the road well in August. He made the drive three times to work the turf miler Mr. Commons for trainer John Shirreffs.

Blanc would rise early, travel to Hollywood Park and return to Del Mar in time for afternoon races. All of that for about a minute’s worth of work.

“It was a good minute,” Blanc said last weekend.

The commitment has paid dividends. Blanc rode Mr. Commons to a second in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile on Aug. 26 as a replacement rider for Mike Smith, who was at Saratoga that day. When Mr. Commons runs in Saturday’s $150,000 Arroyo Seco Mile at Santa Anita, Blanc will have the mount.

His commitment to work Mr. Commons in August so impressed owner Ian Banwell and Shirreffs that they have stuck with the 39-year-old journeyman.

“He came up three weeks in a row to work the horse,” Shirreffs said.

“There are not many jockeys that would come up and we really appreciated it.”

For Blanc, gaining the mount on Mr. Commons puts him closer to reaching a career goal. Mr. Commons is a candidate for the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 3, a race that Blanc considers a highlight each year. It is a race he has never ridden.

“The Breeders’ Cup Mile has been my dream,” he said. “It’d be awesome to win such a race. Since I was a kid, it’s been one of the most favorite races of the Breeders’ Cup. It’s a world cup race with the European horses.”

A native of France and still a citizen of that country, Blanc has been based in Southern California for most of his career. While he has never won a riding title, he has maintained a reputation for excelling with closers, especially turf runners. That is the style of Mr. Commons.

“Maybe I get that because I can get a lot of horses to relax and people want me to ride horses that need to settle,” Blanc said.

Over the years, Blanc has won Grade 1 stakes such as the 1999 Matriarch and 2001 Gamely Stakes on Happyanunoit, who was trained by the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel; the 2003 San Juan Capistrano Handicap on Passinetti; and the 2007 Del Mar Debutante on Set Play.

He has won the Grade 2 Santa Barbara Handicap for females on turf at Santa Anita the last two years.

Blanc has worked with top stables before. He worked with the late Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham and with the late Rodney Rash as an apprentice in the early 1990s.

“Working for Rodney and Charlie, they were great to start with,” he said. “Charlie was a good mentor and a great trainer. It’s nice to be near greatness.”

Mr. Commons, 4, was fifth in the 2011 BC Mile at Churchill Downs under Smith. He won two Grade 2 stakes early in the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting – the Sir Beaufort and Arcadia Stakes – but has lost his last four starts. In the Del Mar Mile, Mr. Commons closed from last in the field of six to finish a nose behind Obviously, who set a track record of 1:32.10 and is expected to run in the Arroyo Seco Mile.

“It was a tough beat,” Blanc said.

The experience should help Blanc in the Arroyo Seco Mile and again in the BC Mile, Shirreffs said.

“For me, he looks like a rider who is in rhythm with the horse,” Shirreffs said. “They seem like one.”