10/06/2011 11:25AM

Santa Anita: Mr. Commons uses Oak Tree Mile as audition for BC Mile

Benoit & Associates
A good performance in Saturday's Oak Tree Mile could propel Mr. Commons to the Breeders' Cup Mile.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Since mid-summer, Mr. Commons has had a crash course in how to be a top-class turf miler in California.

A win in the restricted Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds at Del Mar in July was followed by a game second, by a nose, to the multiple stakes winner Caracortado in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile on Aug. 27.

When Mr. Commons starts as the likely favorite in Saturday’s $150,000 Oak Tree Mile, the result will determine how ambitiously owner Ian Banwell and trainer John Shirreffs will be with the colt this fall. A win could lead to a start in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.

Shirreffs insists that Mr. Commons can win on Saturday in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile and justify a trip to Kentucky.

“He’s just getting better,” Shirreffs said. “He’s learned the level of competition he has to compete at.”

The two Del Mar races varied in quality. Mr. Commons was the even-money favorite in the Oceanside, and rallied from seventh in a field of nine to win comfortably, by 1 1/4 lengths. In the much tougher Del Mar Mile, Mr. Commons was fourth early, led by a half-length in the stretch but could not hold off Caracortado.

“He didn’t give up,” Shirreffs said. “He battled back and that showed he has a lot of heart. He’s a 3-year-old with a big future in front of him.”

Caracortado is not in the Oak Tree Mile field – he is being pointed for the California Cup Classic on Oct. 29 – but Saturday’s race does include Calimonco, who was third in the Del Mar Mile.

Trained by John Sadler, Calimonco won the restricted Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar on July 27 and was unlucky in the Del Mar Mile. In the final quarter-mile, Calimonco raced in traffic and was beaten only a half-length by Caracortado.

A 5-year-old horse, Calimonco made his graded stakes debut in the Del Mar Mile, his 25th start, and will certainly attract support in the Oak Tree Mile, considering the trouble he encountered.

The field features two horses with Breeders’ Cup experience from 2009 when the event was held at Santa Anita. El Gato Malo was eighth in the BC Turf Sprint that season, and is winless in four subsequent starts. El Gato Malo has been second or third in those four races, all stakes.

Crown of Thorns was second by a nose in the BC Sprint at Santa Anita in 2009, and is making his turf debut in his 13th start in Saturday’s Oak Tree Mile. A two-time stakes winner on synthetic tracks, Crown of Thorns, 6, has been plagued by injuries and minor setbacks in his career.

He was third in the Grade 1 Pat O’Brien Stakes over seven furlongs at Del Mar on Aug. 28.

“I’ve always thought about it, so I might as well try it,” trainer Richard Mandella said of the turf. “We’ll be hoping he can do this.”

Three other entrants have won stakes in the last year. Blue Chagall won the minor Riot in Paris Stakes at Hollywood Park last November. Jeranimo won the Grade 2 San Gabriel Stakes here last January. John Johny Jak won the restricted Brubaker Stakes at Del Mar in August.



Victory Pete (scratched)


El Gato Malo 
ML: 12-1
D. Flores 
119 Lbs
C. Dollase


John Johny Jak 
ML: 5-1
R. Bejarano 
119 Lbs
K. Mulhall


Blue Chagall (FR) 
ML: 12-1
M. Pedroza 
119 Lbs
J. Canani


ML: 3-1
M. Garcia 
121 Lbs
M. Pender


Mr. Commons 
ML: 5-2
M. Smith 
116 Lbs
J. Shirreffs


Crown of Thorns 
ML: 4-1
A. Quinonez 
124 Lbs
R. Mandella


ML: 9-2
V. Espinoza 
119 Lbs
J. Sadler


Monterey Jazz 
ML: 15-1
J. Talamo 
119 Lbs
C. Dollase