He'll face several of the same horses he defeated in the San Fernando in the final leg of the Strub series, which is restricted to foals of 2004. A field of nine is entered in the Strub including likely favorite Tiago. The Strub is a nine-furlong test.
Trained by Bob Baffert for owners Faisal Salman and Robert N. Clay, who co-bred him, Air Commander nipped Malibu Stakes (gr. I) winner Johnny Eves in a tremendous stretch duel in the San Fernando, with 7-5 favorite Tiago third, 1 1/4 lengths behind. The 4-year-old son of Point Given had been turned out for nearly eight months last year to give him time to grow up. "A big clown," was how Baffert described him.
But he put it all together in the San Fernando, his first win since beating an allowance field at Santa Anita last March. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile distance was a blazing 1:40.16.
"We freshened him up and brought him back with a couple of outings, and he needed those outings," Baffert said.
Air Commander tracked the pacesetting Johnny Eves in the San Fernando and wore down his rival to win in a head-bobbing finish. Tiago, ridden in mid-pack by Mike Smith, loomed into contention in the lane and finished willingly while not threatening the first two.
Aaron Gryder, who rode Air Commander that day, retains the mount. Air Commander has a career record of 3-2-0 in eight tries while banking $248,680.
Tiago, who gave the winner six pounds in the San Fernando, carries just two more pounds in the Strub as the 123-pound high weight. Last year's Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner on the conventional dirt track, the Pleasant Tap colt won Oak Tree's Goodwood (gr. I) by a nose last fall in preparation for his fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I). The extra distance of the Strub figures to work to his advantage.
John Shirreffs trains the bay Tiago, who also won the Swaps Breeders' Cup (gr. II) last year for owners Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss. Tiago has won four of eight starts lifetime and earned $1,264,270. Smith rides once again.
Also coming out of the San Fernando are fifth-place finisher Sahara Heat, grade I winner Great Hunter (sixth) and Monzante (seventh).
Bobby Frankel could have a surprise package in Stronach Stables' Giant Gizmo, a fast-developing Giant's Causeway homebred. Giant Gizmo, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, dominated a one-mile allowance field by three lengths in last start at Santa Anita Dec. 30.
Monterey Jazz switches from the turf after registering a front-running one-length score in the Sir Beaufort (gr. IIIT) Stakes at one mile Dec. 26. That was the stakes debut for Monterey Jazz, who breaks from the far outside with David Flores. Craig Dollase trains the dark bay Thunderello colt who has won four of 10 races lifetime but is winless in two starts on synthetic surface.
$300,000 Strub Stakes (gr. II, Race 9, 4:07 p.m.), 4-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Great Hunter (PA), 119, Victor Espinoza
2. Slew's Tizzy (KY), 119, Joseph Talamo
3. Tiago (KY), 123, Mike E. Smith
4. Monzante (KY), 117, Garrett K. Gomez
5. Air Commander (KY), 121, Aaron T. Gryder
6. Sahara Heat (KY), 117, Tyler Baze
7. Giant Gizmo (KY), 117, Rafael Bejarano
8. Warning Zone (VA), 117, Joel Rosario
9. Monterey Jazz (KY), 121, David R. Flores