07/12/2007 11:00PM

After Market, Commentator on rise


PHOENIX - When the big 3-year-olds renew acquaintances again in the coming month or so, all eyes will be watching. But this is no one-ring circus. Sure, the summit of Street Sense, Curlin, and Rags to Riches may inspire the most anticipation, but there are plenty of other events coming up this summer, and plenty of other horses who may make some noise. Here are two of them.

After Market - This shooting star whipped Lava Man in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham on the turf, and trainer John Shirreffs is about to unleash him on the rest of the turf division. Yes, he will have to face the likes of The Tin Man, English Channel, Better Talk Now, and potentially Sunriver, but this regally bred runner was cut out from day one to be a star, and he appears ready to fulfill that destiny. He is targeting Del Mar's Grade 1 Eddie Read on July 22, and, should all go according to plan there, he might next shoot for the Arlington Million in Chicago.

A son of Storm Cat out of top-class mare Tranquility Lake, After Market showed incredible acceleration to blow Lava Man off the track in the Whittingham. Anything like that (and what if he actually improves?) will make him a force in the division.

Commentator - Well, trainer Nick Zito wasn't exactly right - Commentator is not the fastest horse around. The monster performance by High Finance, who beat him in last week's Grade 2 Tom Fool, proved that.

But it's okay that Commentator isn't Precisionist Jr. There's still plenty to like. Despite his third-place finish in the Tom Fool, it should be noted that Commentator ran a splendid race. He pressured sizzling fractions and stayed on as best he could, still earning a 104 Beyer Speed Figure.

This presents an interesting situation for Zito. The prevailing sentiment may be to keep him around one turn and point for Saratoga's Grade 1 Forego, but Commentator seems more at home and thus more dangerous when he can use his speed going beyond a sprint. He could come back in the nine-furlong Whitney in a few weeks, a race he won over eventual Horse of the Year Saint Liam in 2005. Or, Zito could plot a trail that gets him to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, a race that seems written for him.

Commentator has been at his absolute best off the bench. He's won 3 of the last 4 times he returned from a layoff, posting Beyers of 121, 109, and 109. It's exciting to think that the first BC Dirt Mile could bring together Commentator, Discreet Cat, Corinthian, Latent Heat, Surf Cat, and Lawyer Ron.

Successors to the throne

Speaking of Commentator and the handicap division, there's a hole there looking to be filled. Invasor has departed the scene. Lava Man no longer seems invincible out West. Premium Tap, who chased Invasor in the BC Classic and Dubai World Cup, is entrenched in the Middle East now, while Discreet Cat remains a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, surrounded by a riddle.

Political Force, who finished so strongly to be second in the Met Mile and then validated that form with his smart Suburban tally, may be ready to step up.

Another of interest, though, is Awesome Twist. A son of BC Classic hero Awesome Again, Awesome Twist made his 2007 debut in the Tom Fool. He lagged back early and finished strongly to get second. Trainer John Kimmel said the Whitney interests him, and Awesome Twist showed quality last year when second in the Grade 2 Brooklyn and third in the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup. With the division having taken a hit of late, he may be well positioned to step in and help fill the void.

The Dubai myth

Maybe the good form of the likes of Lava Man, English Channel, Honey Ryder, The Tin Man, and Host after going to Dubai will dispel the myth that such a trip results in horses not coming back to their best form. Sure, there have been horses who have not returned to form after the trip, but it might not have been so much the trip to Dubai that's the culprit, but instead that those horses were in the twilight of their careers anyway.

Embarrassment of riches

Price Tag, who ran third in the Grade 2 CashCall Mile last week at Hollywood, might run next on the Polytrack at Del Mar, and success there would give trainer Bobby Frankel all sorts of options. Of course, it also takes away one of the turf distaff division's leading lights.

Don't worry, though - the division is absolutely loaded. Citronnade goes from strength to strength. Honey Ryder looks as good as ever after giving the boys fits in the Grade 1 United Nations. Lady of Venice produced a terrific late kick to win the CashCall Mile. Wait a While had to miss the CashCall, but we all know what she's capable of. Safari Queen may only be trainer Todd Pletcher's third best turf female (he also trains Honey Ryder and Wait a While) but she's no slouch. And then Saturday, the enormously talented Royal Highness was scheduled to make her return (versus Safari Queen, no less) in Delaware's Robert Dick Memorial Handicap.

It's quite possible most of these will run into each other come next month's Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington, and wouldn't that be some treat?