07/27/2008 11:00PM

Commentator feat one for the books


NEW YORK - Kelso and Discovery. When even the most casual racing fan hears those names, he or she probably knows the discussion involves really good racehorses. For some, it might only be because these two have stakes races named in their honor. After all, it has been several generations since Kelso and Discovery raced. So it would be understandable if many didn't fully appreciate the kind of heady company we're talking about here.

Kelso was Horse of the Year from 1960 through 1964, making him the only five-time Horse of the Year. That mark has about as much chance of being eclipsed as Cy Young's 511 career wins in baseball, which is to say absolutely no chance. Kelso carried 130 pounds or more 24 times and won 13 of those races. His earnings at the time of his retirement of nearly $2 million set a record that amazingly stood 13 years. In 1999, when The Blood-Horse published a list ranking the top 100 horses of the 20th century, it had Kelso fourth, behind only Man o' War, Secretariat, and Citation.

Discovery was also regarded as one of the greatest weight-carriers in the history of American racing. In 1935, he won 11 of 19 starts, carrying an average of 131 pounds. Although racing awards were still one year away from being formalized, Discovery was acknowledged as America's top horse in 1935, even though Omaha swept the Triple Crown that same season. Discovery was ranked 37th in that Blood-Horse list. For perspective, Ruffian was ranked just two spots ahead of him.

Why the history lesson? Because when Commentator ran away with Saturday's Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, he joined Kelso and Discovery as the only horses to win multiple Whitneys. And while no one is suggesting that Commentator is on the same level as Kelso or Discovery, for him to emulate two horses like that in any meaningful way is still quite an achievement.

The only real surprise about Commentator's win Saturday was that he paid as much as $10.80 to win. Commentator was already known for talent and heart as big as the Atlantic Ocean - he cemented that when he turned back the eventual Horse of the Year, Saint Liam, in his first Whitney in 2005 - compromised frequently by a fragile constitution that limited him before Saturday to only 18 starts over five racing seasons. Commentator was the lone speed Saturday, and he is usually deadly when he can get a clear lead. In fact, the only two times he lost a clear lead in his career, he was provoked into insane early fractions.

But the most intriguing thing about this Whitney is that it was only the third career start around two turns for Commentator, and one of the other two was that Whitney three years ago. We all know that as a rule, fractions are more forgiving in route races. When Commentator can get a clear lead, and relax at the same time, more often than not you're going to get outcomes like on Saturday when he spread-eagled his field. So unless there is a big run on rabbits, we should see more of what we saw from Commentator on Saturday if he is kept around two turns.

Thoughts on some other Saratoga weekend stakes results:

* Ginger Punch has won plenty of races in blowout fashion, but I'm especially taken with her when she overcomes adversity and shows the heart of the champion that she is. That was the case in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last fall when she was slammed by Hystericalady in the stretch, knocked off stride, and still won. And that was the case in Saturday's Go for Wand Handicap. Boxed in virtually the whole way, Ginger Punch would not be denied once she saw a sliver of racing room. And she did this while making truly meaningful weight concessions.

* Forever Together, upset winner of Saturday's Diana Stakes, is the real deal. She suggested she would have no problem stretching out to nine furlongs in the Diana when in her previous start, a fast-closing third in the one-mile Just a Game, she flew her last quarter-mile in just over 22 seconds. In the Diana, Forever Together flew home again, this time winning going away. She went her final eighth in just over 11 seconds, strongly suggesting that 1 1/4 miles - the distance of the Flower Bowl Invitational and Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf - should be well within her scope .

* Call me skeptical when it comes to Abraaj, winner of Saturday's Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap as the favorite. His big closing kick was made to look bigger than it was thanks to a race that fell apart completely, as evidenced by a final quarter-mile run in a slow 25.66 seconds.

* It's fair to question the wisdom of scheduling separate 1 1/8-mile stakes for 3-year-olds in back-to-back races, as was the case Sunday with the Henry Walton and the Jim Dandy. The only difference was that the Walton was restricted to those who had not won a graded stakes this year, which left the door open to some very serious horses. Otherwise, they were the same race, which diminished the importance of the Jim Dandy as a local prep for the Travers.

An unexpected by-product, though, was that the Walton highlighted how soft the more "accomplished" horses who ran in the Jim Dandy are. The Walton was the faster, more strongly run race. I would take the future of the Walton winner, Mambo in Seattle, over that of the Jim Dandy winner, Macho Again.