Ridden by John Velazquez for trainer Todd Pletcher and owners of Aaron and Marie Jones, Master Command established a stakes-record time of 1:42 1/5 for the 1 1/16-mile event, which was one tick off the Fair Grounds track mark.
“He was going so easy, and when I asked him he responded right away,” said Velazquez. “At the sixteenth pole he began to wander a little but at that point he was much the best.”
Forwardly placed just off the flanks of Purim, who set an easy pace (:24 1/5, :48 and 1:12) in a bunched field, Master Command responded when roused in the stretch to win easily in his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 24. Master Command, a Pennsylvania-bred son of A.P. Indy--Lady Lochinvar (Lord at War), won a pair of graded stakes in 2006, including the Meadowlands Breeders Cup (gr. II) in October.
“Right now, the tentative plan is to run him back in the New Orleans Handicap,” said Pletcher, who returned from a 45-day suspension Saturday.
The chestnut 5-year-old horse Master Command, carrying high weight of 120 pounds, improved his record to 6-2-2 in 13 lifetime starts with earnings of $659,018.
Brushwood Stable bred the winner, who paid $3.40, $2.60 and $2.20.
Patriot Act ($5.40, $3.60), ridden by Robby Albarado, rallied belatedly to neck Well Said ($4) and James Graham for second.
Sandburr finished fourth, followed by Purim and Welcome Again.