News & Barn notes

Trainer Jimmy Toner Taking A Big Swing With Commandeer In Saturday’s $150,000, Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes

June 16, 2023

In a field filled with accomplished turf runners – four of the six have at least 14 career starts on the grass – trainer Jimmy Toner’s Commandeer is a bit of an outlier in Saturday’s Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes at Monmouth Park.

The 5-year-old gelding will be making just his second lifetime start on the grass, doing so a little less than two months after his first try on the surface.

“I always wanted to try him on grass,” said Toner. “I always felt he would handle the turf. But he did win on the dirt so it wasn’t a desperation move where we had to try him on grass.

“I just felt in the back of my mind if there was a chance to try him on turf I wouldn’t hesitate.”

That opportunity came in Commandeer’s 2023 debut at Keeneland on April 20, when he stormed home at odds of 31-1 to get second, beaten a neck after stumbling at the start, in an 11-horse field going a mile and a sixteenth.

The $150,000 Monmouth Stakes, one of four stakes races on the 14-race Haskell Preview Day card, is at a mile and an eighth and is headed by the Chad Brown-trained Tribhuivan, a multiple Grade 1 winner. Tribhuvan has not raced since Aug. 27, however.

“It’s a good field with some very good turf horses. But it’s a small field so why not take a shot?” said Toner. “I think off his last effort he is entitled to try a graded stakes on the grass. I’ll see what I have tomorrow.”

Toner took over training for the son of Street Boss-Gozlan by Tiznow six starts ago. After winning his first two starts for Toner, Commandeer was off the board in a pair of graded stakes. But all of those efforts were on the dirt.

“I really wanted to get him on the grass last year but he had foot issues and only made three starts,” said Toner. “I worked him at Palm Meadows on the grass and I was very encouraged with the way he breezed. So I thought `ok, we can try the grass now.’ ”

Toner, who has leading rider Paco Lopez listed for the mount, said Commandeer’s grass debut validated his belief in having the AJ Suited Racing Stable charge on the new surface.

“Considering it was a tough field I was happy with the way he ran (at Keeneland),” said Toner. “I expected him to run well. I was looking for a good effort. But I was surprised he ran as good as he did, don’t get me wrong – especially after he stumbled badly at the start. So it was really encouraging.”

Though Commandeer came from far off the pace in his grass debut, Toner said that was a byproduct of the start, not the horse’s running style.

“He’s adaptable,” he said. “He didn’t break well. That’s why he was last. He stumbled badly coming out of the gate. But he has tactical speed. You can put him where you want him to be.”

The Monmouth Stakes serves as the local prep for the Grade 1, $600,000 United Nations on Haskell Day. The Saturday card also features the Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds, the Grade 3 Eatontown Stakes at a mile and a sixteenth on the grass and the Grade 3 Salvator Mile.

First race post time is 12:40 p.m.