Trained by Nick Zito, who has probably had to manage the 7-year-old gelding as closely as any other in his Hall of Fame career, Commentator is the 120-pound high weight in the 1 1/8-mile main track attraction.
“He gets older but keeps coming up at a high level," Zito said. "He has his issues, but we have learned to space out his races and give him the time he needs. When he gets the time he needs, he usually comes up with his race. That’s all we ever ask: for Commentator to be Commentator.”
The $750,000 Whitney is one of four graded stakes on the Saratoga card that are part of the Breeders’ Cup Championships’ “Win and You’re In” series. The Whitney winner automatically qualifies for the Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I) at Santa Anita in October. Saturday’s stakes will be televised live by ABC from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern.
The front-running Commentator will be making his 19th career start, of which he has won 11 while earning $1,091,936. The New York-bred son of Distorted Humor has won three of five starts at The Spa, but none since the '05 Whitney, when he led all the way and held off eventual Horse of the Year Saint Liam by a neck in a determined effort. The chestnut was shortened up to one-turn races shortly after that and the nine furlongs of the Whitney loom as a question mark.
Commentator has ran just 10 times since his Whitney victory. He turned in a couple of resounding victories this year, taking a one-mile optional claiming event at Gulfstream Park by 14 lengths in January and following that with a 13 1/2-length triumph in the seven-furlong Richter Scale (gr. II) six weeks later. That led to a start in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at one mile at Belmont Park May 26, his last race, where he yielded late to the charging Divine Park and finished second by two lengths.
Should Commentator win, he would become the second-oldest horse to take the prestigious race. Five-time Horse of the Year Kelso is the oldest horse to win the Whitney and he did that in 1965, when at the age of 8, he won the race for the second time. He'll break from the rail with john Velazquez in the irons.
Fox Hill Farms' Solar Flare, a 4-year-old Argentina-bred son of 1991 Hopeful (gr. I) winner Salt Lake, joined trainer Larry Jones’ stable earlier this year. After winning his American debut at Delaware Park June 3, he came back about three weeks later to post a sharp second in Belmont's Suburban Handicap (gr. I), finishing a half-length behind Frost Giant.
“It took him so long to come to my barn, I thought they rode him up from Argentina,” Jones said. “It took him a while to get used to the North American way of doing things, but you can see that he turned out to be a very good student, and he is not quite a full 4-year-old.”
Among the horses he beat in the Suburban was the 6-5 favorite, A.P. Arrow, who ran sixth in a dull effort in his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) for Todd Pletcher. The 6-year-old A.P. Arrow is looking to reclaim the form that saw him win the Clark Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs in November.
Pletcher also starts grade II winner Cowtown Cat.
There does not appear to be much speed in the field but one that is likely to go with Commentator is the Patrick Kelly-trained Tasteyville, who comes off a second-place finish in the muddy Tom Fool Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont July 4. Kelly would love an off-track for his 5-year-old With Approval gelding who also won Aqueduct's Sport Page Handicap (gr. III) by more than nine lengths on sloppy going last fall.
Two-time grade I winner Student Council, trained by Steve Asmussen, ran third in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) last month after capturing the Pimlico Special (gr. I) May 16.
The field also includes third-place Suburban finisher Rising Moon, Salvator Mile (gr. III) winner Notional and Grasshopper, runner-up to Street Sense in last year’s Travers (gr. I). Allen Jerkens entered Merchant Marine, who flattened out in the Suburban and finished fifth.
Trainer John Kimmel is running an extremely fresh Timber Reserve, who has had just one start since winning the 2007 Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) last September. He beat one horse in the Hal’s Hope (gr. III) at Gulfstream on Jan. 6.
Timber Reserve has been training well at Belmont Park and could be a factor on the lead.
“Sure, we would have liked to have had a prep, but we figure we’ll use this, maybe get a race under his belt, and maybe come back in the Woodward.”
$750,000 Whitney Handicap (gr. I, Race 10, 5:46 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Commentator (NY), 120, John R. Velazquez
2. Solar Flare (ARG), 115, Gabriel Saez
3. Notional (CA), 116, Edgar S. Prado
4. Cowtown Cat (KY), 114, Rafael Bejarano
5. Merchant Marine (KY), 113, Rajiv Maragh
6. Tasteyville (KY), 115, Michael J. Luzzi
7. Rising Moon (KY), 115, Cornelio H. Velasquez
8. Grasshopper (KY), 116, Robby Albarado
9. A. P. Arrow (KY), 116, Ramon A. Dominguez
10. Student Council (KY), 117, Shaun Bridgmohan
11. Timber Reserve (KY), 115, Javier Castellano
The Whitney is featured on this week's That Handicapping Show.