Stakes return to seal comeback

Top sprinter Keen Commander has convinced trainer Denise McGrath he is ready for a return to stakes racing.

Keen Commander is among 21 entries for the Listed Lightning Handicap at Randwick on Saturday as he continues a comeback trail which could take the speed merchant as far as the Melbourne spring carnival.

The seven-year-old, who has banked almost $600,000 in stakes from eight victories, spent 12 months in racing’s wilderness before winning in welter company at Warwick Farm last week.

“To say that I was happy to see him win might be a bit of an understatement,” McGrath said.

“I was extremely thrilled he raced so well.”

Keen Commander won the 2008 Lightning but the gelding spend much of last year in a paddock.

“We never got a definitive answer about what was wrong with him,” McGrath said.

“The vets ran a gamut of tests because he was completely off the ball. He was dull in the coat and dull in the eye.

“In the end the consensus was he picked up some sort of stomach bug.”

Keen Commander was spelled twice before returning to work and a 12-length barrier trial win immediately helped eased McGrath’s concerns about the sprinter’s future.

“That’s when I knew we had him back and the Warwick Farm win confirmed that,” she said.

Carrying 60.5kg on a rain-affected track, Keen Commander had almost two lengths to spare over Motspur when ridden by claiming apprentice Jamie Quinnell.

Fellow apprentice Nathan Berry takes over in the non-claiming race on Saturday. He will be riding on a stay of proceedings pending an appeal over a suspension incurred at Goulburn last week.

Another Lightning victory could make Keen Commander a candidate for this year’s Melbourne spring carnival.

He headed south to contest the Salinger Stakes and Patinack Farm Classic at Flemington without luck two years ago.

“It’s one race at a time with him at the moment but Melbourne is a possibility,” McGrath said.

“There’s a possibility I might take him back to the Gold Coast.”

Keen Commander turned in a career-best run in the 1000-metre Magic Millions Sprint early last year, winning in 55.9 seconds.

“Not too many horses break 56 seconds and he did it carrying 60 kilos,” McGrath said.

Other nominations for the $100,000 race on Saturday include Joe Pride’s free-running mare De Lightning Ridge, Queensland sprinter Leapfrog, Saturday’s Rosehill winner Ofcourseican and veteran bush speedster The Jackal.