Commentator became the second-oldest winner of the 81-year-old Whitney. Only five-time Horse of the Year Kelso was older, winning the prestigious race as an 8-year-old in 1965. With the victory, Commentator gains an automatic bid to the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita Oct. 25.
“This is a good illustration to anyone who gets old -- don’t ever give up,” winning trainer Nick Zito told a national television audience afterward.
Commentator joins three-time winner Kelso and Discovery, who won this race three years in a row from 1934-36, as the only repeat winners of the Whitney.
“This is one of the greatest feats of all time,” Zito said. “He gets in that league with Kelso and Forego, which I wanted him to be in so they couldn’t take him out. He’s in that special league. He’s an amazing horse.”
A rain deluge prior to the Whitney left the top of the track wet but playing fast and it was easy to spot the one in front. Commentator was the only one in the field not covered in mud as he reached the wire in a dull 1:50.23 for the 1 1/8-mile journey.
Breaking from the rail for John Velazquez, Commentator rushed to the front and quickly established clear control of the pace through quarter-mile fractions of :24.16, :47.73 and 1:11.80 for the opening six furlongs. With lukewarm (7-2) favorite Solar Flare, outsider Timber Reserve and Notional offering only nominal pressure, Commentator seemed to put his rivals to sleep on the far turn. But at the top of the stretch, Commentator responded to urging from Velazquez and spurted away to a big lead, which he clung to tenaciously all the way to the wire. The official winning distance was 4 3/4 lengths.
Student Council, the only other grade I winner in the field of 11, got rolling belatedly while five paths wide and ran on for second under Shaun Bridgmohan, 8 1/2 lengths clear of the show horse, Grasshopper, ridden by Robby Albarado.
“We ran a very good race,” trainer Steve Asmussen said of the runner-up. “Commentator, as usual at Saratoga, was very effective. Everybody made a run at him, but when he cut the corner, he was just gone.”
Experts questioned whether Commentator could handle the two-turn distance, since he had rarely tried it since winning the 2005 Whitney, when he defeated eventual Horse of the Year Saint Liam by a neck in a memorable race. But the lightly raced son of Distorted Humor was fully up to the task for Zito while carrying top weight of 120 pounds. Commentator has won four of six starts at Saratoga.
Owned by Tracy Farmer, the New York-bred gelding earned his 12th win in 19 lifetime starts while his bankroll jumped to $1,541.936. This was just the 11th start for the chestnut since he won the Whitney for the first time.
In his last start, Commentator set the pace in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) and yielded late, finishing second, two lengths behind Divine Park. He won his other three starts in 2008, including the seven-furlong Richter Scale (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park March 8.
Michael Martinez is the winning breeder.
Sent off as the second choice, Commentator paid $10.80, $6.20 and $4.30, topping a $2 exacta worth $100. Student Council, winner of the Pimlico Special (gr. I) more than two months ago, returned $7.60 and $4.70. Grasshopper, runner-up in last year's Travers (gr. I), was $4.80 to show.
Notional finished fourth, followed by Rising Moon, Merchant Marine, Solar Flare, A.P. Arrow, Timer Reserve, Tasteyville and Cowtown Cat.
“There is not much to say,” said Solar Flare’s trainer, Larry Jones. “He made a good run at Commentator going around the turn, leveled off and had enough."
According to on-site veterinarians, Rising Moon pulled up and was apparently sore in the left front leg. He was vanned off to be taken back to the barn for X-rays.