Like a fine wine, Commentator seems to get better with age. And on Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs, Tracy Farmer’s remarkable 7-year-old gelding will try to cap off a terrific season when he takes on seven rivals in the $400,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (gr. II).
Trained by Nick Zito, Commentator has been dazzling in 2008, winning four of five starts, including his second consecutive victory in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga. Most recently, the son of Distorted Humor destroyed the field in the Sept. 20 Massachusetts Handicap, winning by a whopping 14 lengths as the 1-9 choice.
The MassCap triumph was Commentator’s third win by at least 13 lengths this year. He also has the highest recorded Beyer Speed Figure both under and over a mile in 2008.
“He does seem to get better the older he gets,” said Farmer, who confirmed that he plans to keep Commentator in training in 2009. “Nick does a great job of taking care of him and we don't race him too often. I'm sure that helps. It's pretty unbelievable.
“It would mean a great deal (to win the Clark), being from Kentucky and all. I've never won it and it's a prestigious race.”
Commentator, who was bred in New York by Michael Martinez and is out of the Storm Bird mare Outsource, has a victory in his only start on the Churchill Downs dirt--an eight-length allowance score back in 2004. The chestnut is 13-1-2 from 20 lifetime starts with earnings of $1,841,936. Regular rider John Velazquez gets the mount and will be part of a 124-pound impost that Commentator will carry.
Commentator is expected to be on or near the lead, with John Kimmel trainee Timber Reserve the only other horse on paper that seems capable of going with the speedster in the early going.
Elisabeth Alexander’s Magna Graduate could present the biggest challenge to Commentator in the 1 1/8-mile event. A 6-year-old son of Honor Grades, Magna Graduate will be making the final start of his successful career before heading off to his stud career at Darby Dan Farm.
A seven-time graded stakes winner with more than $2.5 million in earnings, Magna Graduate enters off a decisive 2 1/4-length victory in the Oct. 26 Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) at Churchill--his first win in 12 starts. Previously trained by Todd Pletcher but now in the hands of Steve Asmussen, Magna Graduate won the Clark in 2005 as a 3-year-old. He was sixth in last year’s running. Shaun Bridgmohan gets the call.
Also to consider is Midnight Cry Stable’s Einstein, whose best running has come on turf, but has a runner-up effort to Curlin in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) this summer at Churchill to show for a pair of dirt starts in 2008. Six-year-old Einstein, trained by Helen Pitts, has won two grade I turf events this season and enters off a fifth-place finish in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) back in August. Julien Leparoux will be in the saddle.
Zito’s other (uncoupled) entry will be Four Roses Thoroughbreds’ Anak Nakal, a closer who will hope for a hot pace. A 3-year-old son of Victory Gallop, Anak Nakal has been at his best in the second half of the season. Third in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), Anak Nakal rallied to win the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) by a neck at Philadelphia Park Sept. 1, and most recently, was a runner-up to Arson Squad in the Meadowlands Cup Handicap (gr. II).
$400,000 Clark Handicap (gr. II, Race 11, 4:29 p.m. EDT), 3-Year-Olds and Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Delightful Kiss (FL), 116, Calvin H. Borel
2. Magna Graduate (KY), 120, Shaun Bridgmohan
3. Einstein (BRZ), 119, Julien R. Leparoux
4. Commentator (NY), 124, John R. Velazquez
5. Anak Nakal (KY), 118, Jesus Lopez Castanon
6. Timber Reserve (KY), 116, Kent J. Desormeaux
7. Wayzata Bay (KY), 117, Israel Ocampo
8. Dominican (KY), 115, Robby Albarado