01/15/2008 1:00AM

Commentator chalky in season debut

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Nick Zito was looking for an easier spot to launch Commentator's 2008 campaign than taking on Chatain in the Jan. 6 Hal's Hope Handicap. And it didn't take long for the Hall of Fame trainer to find one, Thursday's $59,500 optional claiming feature at a mile at Gulfstream Park.

Zito scratched Commentator from the Hal's Hope to avoid Chatain, who successfully defended his title in that Grade 3 race. Thursday's feature race came up decidedly easier with former Grade 1 winner Commentator likely to go off as a heavy favorite despite having made just one start since July 28 and none beyond seven furlongs since finishing third in the Grade 1 Woodward at Belmont Park in 2005.

"There's never an easy spot but on the other hand Chatain is a very talented horse and this seems like a much better place to bring Commentator back than the Hal's Hope," said Zito.

Commentator has not started since finishing seventh after chasing the early pace in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

"He broke open the staring gate right before the Sprint," Zito said. "He had no shot after that. How many times do you ever see a horse win who breaks the gate prior to a race?"

Commentator will be making his second start over the Gulfstream track. The son of Distorted Humor, now 7, finished seventh after setting the pace to the stretch in the 2005 Hal's Hope. Commentator bounced back in his two subsequent appearances to win a third-level allowance race by 16 lengths and Saratoga's Grade 1 Whitney by a neck over that year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Saint Liam.

Commentator tuned up for his return by working five furlongs in 59.80 seconds at Palm Meadows on Jan. 10.

Commentator figures to set the early pace although he could be pressured for the lead by either Park Avenue Prince or Delosvientos, both of whom will be sent out by trainer Giuseppe Iadisernia.

A fast pace would enhance the chances of Wood Be Willing, Sleek John, and Rehoboth all of whom do their best racing from behind.