The ageless Commentator will try to stand alongside the great Kelso as the oldest horse ever to win the prestigious Whitney Handicap (gr. I), a race he will also attempt to capture for a record-tying third time.
But Commentator will have no easy task in the $750,000 event at Saratoga. He will face six tough rivals, including Macho Again and Dry Martini, both entering off graded stakes triumphs; Asiatic Boy, an international multiple group winner; and, millionaire 4-year-old Smooth Air, who seeks his first grade I score.
Post time for the 1 1/8-mile Whitney is set for 5:47 p.m. EDT, one race after the grade I Test Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters. The winner will receive an automatic berth in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 7 at Santa Anita Park.
Owned by Tracy Farmer and trained by Nick Zito, Commentator won the Whitney in 2005 by a neck over Horse of the Year St. Liam and again last season by 4 1/2 lengths — both in wire-to-wire fashion. Now 8, Commentator will try join Kelso and Discovery as the only horses to win the Whitney three times.
A gelded son of Distorted Humor– | StallionRegister.com">–Outsource, by Storm Bird, Commentator has started just twice this season, finishing fourth as the favorite in the Charles Town Classic in April and winning the New York-bred restricted Kashatreya Stakes June 12 in the mud at Belmont Park. The chestnut has turned in a series of very sharp works at Saratoga this summer, including a scintillating five-furlong move in :59.12 July 23.
“How lucky am I to have a horse this old doing what he's doing? If he can pull this off, what a great thing,” Zito said.
Regular rider John Velazquez will have the mount on Commentator, the 8-5 morning-line favorite, who breaks from post 7 and carries 121 pounds. Overall, Commentator has posted a record of 14-1-3 in 23 starts with earnings of more than $1.9 million.
“He's getting older, and he doesn't really need the lead anymore,” Velazquez said. “He's still got speed, but it's not crazy speed. He'll be 1-2 going into the first turn, and if someone else wants the lead, he can rate behind a horse.”
West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again put together two big wins in the first half of 2008, taking the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) in the slop at Fair Grounds in March and most recently, coming from well off the pace to grab a one-length victory from Asiatic Boy in the June 13 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs for his first grade I triumph. An earner of more than $1.4 million from 18 starts, 4-year-old Macho Again also won the Jim Dandy (gr. II) as a sophomore at Saratoga going the Whitney distance.
Trained by Dallas Stewart, Florida-bred Macho Again will break from post 4 with Robby Albarado aboard.
“He ran second in the Preakness to Big Brown; he’s got a lot of credentials,” Stewart said. “He ran great up here last year, and just had trouble (finishing eighth after clipping heels in the Travers).”
Asiatic Boy had the lead in deep stretch in the Stephen Foster, his North American debut, before being overtaken by Macho Again. A winner of four group stakes in Dubai over the past three seasons and runner-up to Curlin in the 2008 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee then came back to finish second once again in the June 4 Suburban Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont. Asiatic Boy has earned more than $3.2 million in his 17-start career.
“I'm co-highweight and fourth choice on the morning line,” McLaughlin said of Asiatic Boy. “That's what bothers me. This is a group of good horses. But he's run well twice since he came to us from Dubai and he's training well. Like everyone else, we're just hoping that someone runs with Commentator early.”
Dry Martini won the Suburban by two lengths while coming from off the pace, his second consecutive score. Fifth in the 2007 Whitney, the 6-year-old gelded son of Slew Gin Fizz will race at Saratoga for just the second time in 27 starts. Edgar Prado will ride for Barclay Tagg.
Smooth Air has a win and three runner-ups in four starts as an older horse, his one win coming in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) in March. Now trained by Chad Brown, the 4-year-old son of Smooth Jazz was second in both the Shadwell Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) and Salvator Mile (gr. III) in his last two starts. The Hutcheson (gr. II) and Ohio Derby (gr. II) winner from 2008 will be ridden by Jose Lezcano for the first time.
Rounding out the field are Alysheba Stakes (gr. III) winner Bullsbay, and the speedy Tizway, who makes his stakes debut after scoring by 7 1/2 lengths in allowance company July 12 at Belmont. He could challenge Commentator in the early stages.
$750,000 Whitney Handicap (gr. I, race 10, 5:47 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Smooth Air (FL), J Lezcano, 118, C C Brown
2. Asiatic Boy (ARG), A Garcia, 121, K P McLaughlin
3. Bullsbay (KY), J Rose, 116, H G Motion
4. Macho Again (FL), R Albarado, 119 D Stewart
5. Tizway (KY), R Maragh, 113, H J Bond
6. Dry Martini (FL), E S Prado, 117, B Tagg
7. Commentator (NY), J R Velazquez, 121, N P Zito