Matthew Schera's Island Commish, unraced since extending his win streak to three races in the Kitten's Joy (G3) Jan. 4, will try two turns for the first time as he launches his comeback in the $75,000 English Channel at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, May 2.
The 1 1/16-mile English Channel for 3-year-olds on the turf is one of three stakes worth $250,000 in purses on a 12-race program, joined by the $100,000 Big Drama for Florida-bred 3-year-olds and up sprinting seven furlongs and $75,000 Honey Ryder for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.
First race post time is 12:45 p.m.
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
||Buy Me Candy
|Ignacio Correas, IV
||Summer to Remember
||Don Juan Kitten
|Saffie Joseph, Jr.
||Fame to Famous
|John Mc Allen
Based at Gulfstream with trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., Island Commish shows five works over the main track since mid-March including a half-mile breeze in 47.49 seconds April 26 which ranked as the fifth-fastest of 112 horses.
"I think in general he'll be OK. I don't think he'll be at his best off a layoff, but I think he's training well enough that it's time to get him started and see where we're at," Joseph said. "It's nice that it's here at home, so we don't have to ship anywhere."
Island Commish has never raced beyond 7 ½ furlongs, finishing third in the 2019 Proud Man Stakes last summer at Gulfstream and winning a pair of starter races on the Gulfstream Park West turf in the fall before returning to Gulfstream to kick off his sophomore campaign with a half-length triumph in the Kitten's Joy.
It was the first time facing graded competition for Island Commish, thanks in part to the urging of jockey Paco Lopez, aboard for all three races during his win streak. Lopez is named to ride Saturday, his first day back in action since injuring his thumb April 11.
"He's gotten better and better every race, and putting him on the turf has definitely helped him. He's a better horse on the turf," Joseph said. "I have to give Paco a lot of credit. The first time he rode him, he had a lot of confidence in him. That was one of the reasons we actually took a shot, because Paco was talking so highly of him.
"He won the starter allowances and then he stepped up in his last race," he added. "We weren't sure if he was that kind of horse but he definitely showed that he is, and the horses he beat have come back to run well so it was quite rewarding to see."
An illness cost Island Commish a chance to come back on the Presidents Day program of starter stakes during Gulfstream's Championship Meet. Joseph isn't overly concerned about the English Channel distance for Island Commish, a son of multiple graded-stakes winner and 2014 Belmont Stakes (G1) runner-up Commissioner who Schera purchased prior to his last two starts and who ran for a $35,000 tag in his career bow for original owner Shooting Star Thoroughbreds.
"After the Kitten's Joy I was pointing him to the starter stakes in February and he got sick on us, so we backed off of him. It took him a little while to get over that, but he seems to be back in good form now and we're ready to get him started," Joseph said.
"He's got tactical speed but he doesn't need the lead, which is important," he added. "[The distance] is an unknown. Anytime you go into unknown territory it's always a big ask, but I feel like he should be able to get a mile and a sixteenth, especially at Gulfstream which suits speed on the turf. I think he'll get the distance."
Island Commish drew Post 10 of 13 at co-topweight of 124 pounds.
Sagamore Farm's South Bend, a juvenile stakes winner on dirt, goes after his first career turf victory after three close calls since being moved to the grass by trainer Stanley Hough during Gulfstream's Championship Meet.
South Bend was third, beaten a neck by subsequent Grade 3 winner Field Pass, in the one-mile Dania Beach, contested over a good turf course Feb. 1. He was third by 1 ½ lengths to Grade 1-placed Vitalogy in the 1 1/16-mile Palm Beach (G3) Feb. 29, and he was most recently second in the one-mile Cutler Bay March 28, 1 ¼ lengths behind Christophe Clement-trained Grade 1 winner Decorated Invader.
"He seemed to have a turf action to him," Hough said of South Bend, who opened his 2020 season running fourth to Chance It in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Jan. 4 on the Gulfstream dirt. "The first time I ran him here at Gulfstream this year he couldn't get hold of the racetrack. I do think he'll run better on the dirt than he did that day. He just never got into it and he was able to pass a few horses there at the end, but not how you would like.
"Then he went to the grass and he ran a really good race, finished third and didn't get beat very far. I think the mile and a sixteenth is going to be a little better for him," he added. "The race before last, he kind of got off bad and came running. Last time he just got beat by a very nice horse of Christophe's that day, but he ran good. I do think the mile and a sixteenth on the grass is a little better for him, so we'll see."
Hough entered South Bend in last weekend's Unbridled for 3-year-olds on the dirt at Gulfstream, and didn't rule out another try on dirt at some point. Miguel Vasquez is named to ride from Post 7 at 122 pounds.
"I may try him again on the dirt one day, but right now the plan is to keep him on the grass," Hough said. "I think he's improving with each race and right now he's doing really good."
Leonard Green, Jonathan Green and Empire Racing Club's Proven Strategies, like Island Commish, is also riding a win streak as he returns to stakes competition. The Sky Mesa colt broke his maiden impressively going one mile March 4 and was a front-running 3 ¾-length optional claiming allowance winner over his elders at the English Channel distance April 5, both at Gulfstream.
Proven Strategies went winless in five starts at 2, finishing second in the Skidmore Stakes at Saratoga. He was beaten two lengths when fourth to Decorated Invader in the Summer (G1) at Woodbine and sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), and opened this year running third behind subsequent Grade 3-placed Fancy Liquor in a Feb. 2 maiden special weight.
"He's doing great. I think he's really grown up," trainer Mark Casse said. "I thought he ran well in the Breeders' Cup. He only got beat a couple lengths. We brought him home, gave him a little time at our training center and he's just flourished since then.
"His last two races have been very good. Obviously, this is going to be a heck of a race for the amount of money. This is almost like a Breeders' Cup here," he added. "But, he's doing well and we'll see what happens. I don't think any distance is going to be an issue with him. It's more about being able to get him to settle and the pace is what will help decide."
Dylan Davis has the call on Proven Strategies from Post 8 at 120 pounds.
Waterford Stable's Summer to Remember sandwiched an optional claiming allowance victory going 1 1/16 miles Feb. 9 between a third in the Kitten's Joy and a fourth in the Cutler Bay for trainer Todd Pletcher, who also trained the stake's namesake during his career. Both of Summer to Remember's wins have come over the Gulfstream turf, including a maiden triumph Dec. 11.
Summer to Remember will carry 120 pounds including jockey Luis Saez from Post 6.
Doc Boy, whose multiple stakes wins include the 1 1/16-mile Kitten's Joy last summer at Colonial Downs and the one-mile Columbia last out March 7; Don Juan Kitten, unraced since a third in the Awad Stakes last fall; Fame to Famous, fourth to Sole Volante in the Nov. 30 Pulpit at Gulfstream; Decorated Invader's stablemate Gufo, a winner of two straight at Gulfstream; stakes-placed Justinthenickotime, racing first off the claim for trainer Mike Maker; and maiden winners Buy Me Candy, Ever Dangerous and Express Pharoah complete the field. Extraordinary is entered for main track only.
A $50,000 yearling purchase by James Scatuorchio, English Channel compiled 13 wins and more than $5.3 million in purse earnings from 23 starts between 2004 and 2007. Ten of his wins came in stakes, seven graded including six Grade 1s, capping his career with back-to-back victories in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and Breeders' Cup Turf to earn the Eclipse Award as male turf champion of 2017. He won two of three lifetime races at Gulfstream Park, including the 2006 Canadian Turf, which was returned to Grade 3 status in 2007.