Commander Two chases fifth straight in Jamaica Derby
COMMANDER TWO will be running with a bullseye on his rump in Saturday's Jamaica Derby, hunting a fifth straight win but untested beyond a mile - the only fancied runner in the event who has never run a route race, not even nine furlongs and 25 yards.
Carrying topweight, under which he scrambled home by a head in the 2000 Guineas, connections of the bred-to-sprint bay gelding are hoping his tactical speed will carry him home whenever and wherever he makes a bid for the lead.
However, COMMANDER TWO can't help but be among the leaders, not exactly where a horse, who has never gone past a mile, ought to be in a 12-furlong race, making him everybody's mark and the stayers' cue to make their move whenever he does.
Jamaica Two-Year-Old Stakes winner, MARQUESAS, along with Oaks champion FAYROUZ and Governor's Cup revelation, DRUMMER BOY, have all been beaten by COMMANDER TWO at one time or another but the playing field has now been levelled with the speedster having an unfamiliar half-mile more to run.
MARQUESAS established himself as the winter book favourite for the Derby by closing a hat-trick of wins with a handsome victory in the Jamaica Two-Year-Old Stakes at a mile. However, that victory was exposed for what it was in three subsequent losses - a near three-length win over BRANDY, a filly, who is yet to win two races.
Nevertheless, MARQUESAS, running as topweight in his three races since - the Prince Consort Stakes, 2000 Guineas and Governor's Cup - closed willingly inside the final furlong of each, suggesting a collapsing pace could hand him the 12-furlong Derby on a platter with everybody, bar the four fillies, sitting at level weight.
However, what MARQUESAS hasn't shown, which his main rivals have exhibited, is the expected improvement from two to three years old, plus the tactical speed necessary to win top-class races, much unlike the filly FAYROUZ and DRUMMER BOY, who have both won at 10 furlongs.
FAYROUZ' impressive 2:09.3 in the Oaks and hard-fought mile in overnight allowance against older horses, could make her start favourite. The slower pace of 12 furlongs will also suit her running style, despite being sired by a sprint stallion, Blue Pepsi Lodge.
Though DRUMMER BOY's 2:10.3, on paper, puts him five lengths behind FAYROUZ' Oaks win, not to mention that he ran 11lb lighter when clocking that time in the Governor's Cup, those were two entirely different races and should be treated with caution.
FAYROUZ benefited from a collapsing pace on a fast Oaks track, set by HONEY RYDA and MY SISTER, before she pounced on both after a mile, after which she sailed home unchallenged to win by seven lengths.
DRUMMER BOY, on the other hand, called his own tune in the Governor's Cup, albeit in slower splits and a lighter weight, but was so easy when seven lengths clear at the top of the straight, Gary Richards had time to take a long look behind, wondering where was the rest of the field, including MARQUESAS, OUTRAGEOUS TAJ, ROYAL AVIATOR and MY SISTER, who was left behind at the half-mile.
Trainer Wayne DaCosta hammered DRUMMER BOY out of the mile chute at exercise last week, 1:41.3, beating stablemate WITHOUT EXCEPTION, signalling his intention to take the fight to COMMANDER TWO, who only beat his runner by a diminishing three-quarter length, at seven and a half furlongs, sitting level, on March 31.
DRUMMER BOY is vastly improved and has the experience of veteran jockey Gary Richards and the pace to get first run on COMMANDER TWO after the likes of HONEY RYDA, DISABILITY CHARM and, possibly, DRONE STRIKE, remind him that he is in a 12-furlong race.
DaCosta's runner also has breeding on his side, Natural Selection, sire of last year's derby winner, SHE'S A MANEATER, FUTURE KING, who was disqualified the year before and PERFECT NEIGHBOUR, who won in 2012.