August 6, 2005
A crowd of 32,287 came out to Saratoga Race Course for the $750,000 Whitney Handicap (G1). Trainer Nick Zito, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday, had never won the historic race, and he was loaded for bear this year with a two-horse entry of Commentator and Sir Shackleton.
Under jockey Gary Stevens, Commentator opened up to set a pace of :23 2/5; :46 2/5; 1:09 3/5 and 1:39 4/5, but appeared to be ready to give up the ghost late into the race. Meanwhile, jockey Edgar Prado, who had kept favored Saint Liam in a comfortable second, revved up his mount for a chase at the leader. Commentator dug in as Saint Liam made a final surge, but the wire beat him to it and Commentator was a Grade 1 winner. Certainly it helped that the 4-year-old, New York-bred Distorted Humor gelding carried 116 pounds, Stevens rode one pound overweight, to Saint Liam's top weight assignment of 122 pounds, but Commentator proved his mettle as he ran his record to seven wins from eight career starts.
"It's an up and down game," said Zito, who also got third in the Whitney with Sir Shackleton. "This win was special because of Monday. This is probably the most important victory of my life. How can I thank God for this victory? I didn't know if Commentator could go the distance. Commentator is an unusual horse. I was glad Edgar (Prado, on Saint Liam) gave us a little break. Edgar rode a hell of a race. He knew Commentator was the horse to beat. I think we'll wait for the Woodward (Grade 1, $500,000, September 10th; Belmont Park). It's a Grade 1, straightaway mile and an eighth race. Then, we'll consider the Breeders' Cup (October 29th, Belmont Park)."
The Whitney was a big win for Stevens as well. Normally based in California, Stevens opted to join the Spa colony to ride good horses that would, hopefully, lead to Belmont Park's Fall Championship Meet and the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships on October 29th. "From the three-eighths pole, I was very happy after what had gone on earlier in the race," Stevens said. "Commentator was very manageable and cooperative. I turned into the stretch with a lot of horse, and he finished up nice. I'm so happy for Nick (Zito). A lot of things have happened the last couple of weeks, and the meet started out a little slow for him. He's going into the Hall of Fame on Monday, and people don't know that there is a lot of pressure involved in that. For him to win the Whitney, I'm more tickled for him than I am for myself."
As for beaten favorite Saint Liam, his closing kick was impressive and stamps him as a big player down the line. "He ran well," said trainer Richard Dutrow. "I knew we could (get nine furlongs), I didn't know if Commentator could. I'm not going to complain about nothing. I'm proud of him. It's just a shame we couldn't win. Hopefully, we'll live to fight another day." Prado was also happy with Saint Liam, if not with the result. "I'm happy with the way he ran, Prado said. Coming around the turn, I wanted to get close instead of letting him be by himself. My horse caught another gear, and I thought I was going to catch him. He kept trying, but couldn't get it done. We lost to a really fast horse. Giving away the weight made a real big difference."
Swingforthefences was fourth, followed by Limehouse, Eurosilver, Wiggins and Pollard's Vision.