The Grade 3, $175,000 Commonwealth Turf Stakes Nov. 9 at Churchill Downs features an overflow field with 16 horses entered, including two also-eligibles. In terms of recent efforts in stakes, Spectacular Gem deserves first mention as he won the Jefferson Cup Stakes on the Churchill Downs turf last month, with runner-up Tracksmith, third-place finisher Faraway Kitten, and fourth-place finisher Clint Maroon all trying to turn the tables on the winner. Another horse with a strong record of success is Tiz Plus, bringing a 6-for-9 record in 2019 into the race, including a victory in the Robert Dupret Derby in August. Tiz Plus recently joined the barn of trainer Steve Asmussen, who saddled Hot Springs to win the Commonwealth Turf Stakes one year ago. Knicks Go posted the 70-to-1 upset in the 2018 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity on dirt but is winless in nine races since and is trying turf for the first time. However, with a need-the-lead style Knicks Go could take the rest of the Commonwealth Turf field on a merry chase. Marquee Prince may have credentials to succeed with a 5-for-10 career record, including a win in the Black Gold Stakes in March. Armistice Day ships in from Woodbine in Canada off a runner-up effort on an all-weather surface in the Grade 3 Ontario Derby and has won a stakes race on turf as well. Journeyman won the Grade 3 Canadian Derby in August but was disqualified and placed second, before a fifth-of-10 placing in a very strong field in the Dueling Grounds Derby in September. Pirate’s Punch missed winning the Grade 3 Super Derby by a length in September before missing by a neck in a strong allowance field last month behind multiple graded-stakes placed Gray Magician. Louder Than Bombs, Mr Dumas, Osage Moon, Tobacco Road, and also-eligibles Clear Vision and Proliferate round out the field.
Tiz Plus gets top billing as a win contender in my opinion for a number of reasons. First, his overall 6-for-11 record includes five wins in nine tries on grass. Next, Tiz Plus has won five of his last six races, four of those on turf with the only poor effort coming when trying the longer distance of 1 1/8 miles for the first time in September. His last two wins came against older horses and he is facing only 3-year- olds today, which can offer an edge. Best of all, his pattern of improving Equibase Speed Figures — from 91 on Sept. 5 to 98 on Sept. 29 to a career-best 103 figure on Oct. 12 — suggests even better is forthcoming. Tiz Plus recently transferred into the barn of Asmussen, who is number two among all trainers in North America, and the number one winning jockey for Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr., takes the call. With excellent tactical speed, which should enable him to be in the top three positions from the start, Tiz Plus looks very capable of posting the upset to win this year’s Commonwealth Turf Stakes and providing trainer Asmussen with a win in this race for the second year in a row.
Armistice Day is also on a strong pattern of improving Equibase Speed Figures, which suggests he could be a formidable opponent in this race. Although he finished sixth of 10 the first time he tried grass in May, Armistice Day was a different horse in July when winning the Toronto Cup Stakes on the grass and earning an 85 speed figure. Although seventh in September in the Dueling Grounds Derby, the field was even stronger than the Toronto Cup and so his figure improved to 101. Then, three weeks later on Sept. 28, Armistice Day improved to a 104 figure when second in the Ontario Derby. With a very sharp, five-furlong workout, which was the best of 57 on the day, as his most recent in preparation for the race and picking up the services of Churchill Downs leading jockey Corey Lanerie, there’s little doubt Armistice Day will have a big say in the outcome of the Commonwealth Turf Stakes.
Marquee Prince is yet another horse with a proven record of success. His overall 5-for-10 record includes three wins in six races on turf. One of those was in the Lloyd Captain Maestri Memorial Stakes in February, an effort which followed with a win in the Black Gold Stakes in March with a 100 speed figure. Taking time off between May and his next start on Sept. 24, Marquee Prince returned in an allowance race on grass and earned a career-best 103 figure which could be a steppingstone to much better in his second start off the layoff. As such, Marquee Prince deserves a lot of respect when considering who can win this race.
The rest of the Commonwealth Turf Stakes field (with their best representative Equibase Speed Figure): Clear Vision (97), Clint Maroon (106), Faraway Kitten (105), Journeyman (105), Knicks Go (103), Louder Than Bombs (107), Mr. Dumas (101), Osage Moon (92), Pirate’s Punch (104), Proliferate (99), Spectacular Gem (105), Tobacco Road (93), and Tracksmith (105).