Though he's lightly raced and has yet to run farther than seven furlongs, Forest Command figures to draw much of the attention in the $500,000 Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs Sept. 20.
With just three starts to his credit, the son of Monarchos brings the most potential to the evenly-matched group of 10 3-year-olds. Trained by John Ward Jr., Forest Command blew away a first-level allowance field at Saratoga by six lengths as the 7-10 choice in his last start Aug. 9, earning the best last-race Beyer Speed Figure (96) in the Super Derby field. The bay colt is owned by John Oxley and bred by his wife, Debby, out of Acorn Stakes (gr. I) winner Forest Secrets, by Forest Wildcat.
"The thing we don't know is how gifted he is," Ward said. "Monarchos, I know how good he was, and the mare he's out of, Forest Secrets, is a grade I winner and won the Acorn the same weekend Monarchos ran in the Belmont. So, I know the genes are there, and both of them wanted to go long so it should be a match made in heaven."
Forest Command, to be ridden by Robby Albarado, drew the outside post in the 1 1/8-mile Super Derby, which is being contested for the 29th time. His opposition includes Jim Dandy (gr. II) victor Macho Again, the 5-2 morning line favorite looking to bounce back from a disastrous Travers (gr. I) effort, and the first three finishers -- separated by their noses -- in the Super Derby Prelude Stakes at Louisiana Downs Aug. 16: Star Production, Numismatist, and Golden Yank.
Forest Command, 3-1 on the early line, has been training on Keeneland's Polytrack surface since the Saratoga meet ended. He broke his maiden over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs in his second start.
"I don't think the stretch out is going to bother him," Ward said during a teleconference interview Sept. 16. "Both riders that have ridden him, both Robby Albarado, who will ride him in the Super Derby, and Edgar Prado, who kind of filled in for Robby (at Saratoga), both just came back just amazed with what kind of raw talent this horse had."
He has plenty of natural speed and should be forwardly placed, Ward said, but the trainer added: "He doesn't have to be there (in front); he closes big, he does it all."
West Point Thoroughbreds' Macho Again clipped heels at the quarter pole of the Travers when he was less than three lengths behind the leaders and never recovered, finishing eighth. Trainer Dallas Stewart hopes the Macho Uno colt can get a clear trip this time, like the one he enjoyed in Saratoga's nine-furlong Jim Dandy when he upset Pyro by a half-length at odds of 8-1.
The gray/roan has won three times this year, including the Derby Trial at Churchill, and has totaled more than $600,000 in purses to easily lead the Super Derby field in career earnings with $676,619. Kent Desormeaux gets the call, replacing Julien Leparoux.
Local hope Star Production has back-to-back stakes wins over the Louisiana Downs surface after digging deep to pull out the 1 1/16-mile Prelude as the 6-5 choice with fast-rising Carlos Gonzalez aboard. The James Hodge trainee earlier demolished state-breds by eight lengths in the Louisiana Border Derby. He looks to become the first Prelude-Derby winner since Free Spirit’s Joy in 1991.
“It’s his home track,” said owner Bill Borhem of Foxwood Plantation. “That counts for something.”
“I think we can get the distance,” added Gonzalez. “He ran so well two starts ago and I think he is now ready to move forward again.”
Prelude runner-up Numismatist will be making his graded stakes debut here for trainer Donnie Von Hemel. The unlucky Golden Yank looks to snap a seven-race losing streak after being carried out when rallying late in the Prelude and finishing third.
Florida shipper Mambo Meister, a 5 1/2-length winner of the one-mile American Dreamer at Calder Race Course July 5, gets the services of Patrick Valenzuela in the Super Derby. He is trained by Phil Gleaves, who won the Super Derby with Wise Times in 1986.
Real Appeal, winner of the Alysheba Stakes at Lone Star Park over the summer, drew post eight for trainer Tom Amoss. He was 19 lengths off the pace in the Aug. 2 West Virginia Derby (gr. III) but closed stoutly to finish third behind Ready Set and Web Gem. The son of Successful Appeal has worked a pair of bullets at Churchill Downs in preparation.
My Pal Charlie, who brings tactical speed to the line-up, pressed the pace in the West Virginia Derby and finished fifth.
The Super Derby will be the 10th race on the card. The program includes the $200,000 Unbridled Handicap at one mile on the turf, the $150,000 Happy Ticket for 2-year-old fillies on the turf at 1 1/16 miles, the $150,000 Sunday Silence for 2-year-olds at the same distance on the grass, and the $150,000 Tiznow Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, a challenge series race guaranteeing the winner a spot in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.
$500,000 Super Derby (gr. II, Race 11, 5:12 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, ML Odds
1. Stungbythestorm (KY), Donnie J. Meche, 20/1
2. My Pal Charlie (KY), Curt C. Bourque, 6/1
3. Macho Again (FL), Kent J. Desormeaux, 5/2
4. Mambo Meister (KY), Patrick A. Valenzuela, 10/1
5. King Darius (FL), John Jacinto, 30/1
6. Numismatist (KY), M. Clifton Berry, 15/1
7. Star Production (LA), Carlos Gonzalez, 9/2
8. Real Appeal (KY), Gerard Melancon, 12/1
9. Golden Yank (KY), Jamie Theriot, 8/1
10. Forest Command (KY), Robby Albarado, 3/1
Each assigned 124 pounds.