Commander Compton shows how strong a horse’s surface preferences can be

April 24th, 2024

Many horses prefer racing on one surface more than others. Some are dirt horses who can’t compete at the same level on turf, and vice versa. Others show a preference for racing over synthetic tracks… or, in the case of Commander Compton, an almost unprecedented disdain for synthetic.

Commander Compton is vivid proof that some horses hold clear-cut surface preferences, and a reminder that poor form over a disliked surface can be disregarded when analyzing a horse’s past performances.

Commander Compton spent 13 of his first 14 starts competing on dirt, with decent if not extraordinary results. He’d won once and cracked the trifecta three additional times. In the fall of 2023, he was competing in $5,000 claimers for horses who had never won two races, finishing third and second in a pair of one-mile contests at Belterra Park while earning Brisnet Speed ratings of 74 and 73.

Then Commander Compton tried something new: the synthetic Tapeta track at Turfway Park. And wow, did he ever regress. His first start over the surface came in a one-mile $5,000 claimer for non-winners of two races, and even though he was sticking to the same class level as at Belterra Park, Commander Compton dropped far off the early pace and lost ground at every call to finish eighth by 26 1/4 lengths. His Brisnet Speed rating dropped to 44.

The results were even worse when Commander Compton tackled a pair of $7,500 claimers for non-winners of two races. In a 1 1/16-mile event, he raced in last place all the way and lost ground at every call to finish 11th by 46 1/2 lengths. Then in a one-mile heat, he was never closer than 10 1/2 lengths to the lead and finished last of 11, beaten 26 1/2 lengths. Those efforts yielded Brisnet Speed ratings of 30 and 50.

At that point, it seemed safe to assume Commander Compton abhorred the Tapeta at Turfway. But those three straight dismal performances muddied Commander Compton’s form to the extent that when he returned to dirt for a $5,000 claimer for non-winners of two races at Mahoning Valley, bettors allowed him to start at 5-1 in a seven-horse field.

Back on his favored footing, Commander Compton trailed early before unleashing a sweeping rally to dominate by 4 3/4 lengths, earning a 79 Brisnet Speed rating. Bettors willing to forgive his non-showings on Tapeta were rewarded with a payoff of $134 for every $20 win bet, and those who played Commander Compton over 6-5 favorite Mr Laoban in a cold $20 exacta caught a $392 return.

And if you’re curious… Commander Compton subsequently returned to the Turfway Tapeta to compete in a one-mile $7,500 claimer for non-winners of three races. He finished 11th by 27 1/2 lengths.