08/06/2005 12:00AM

Commentator just edges Saint Liam

Commentator and Gary Stevens (right) hold off Saint Liam to win the Whitney and turn around what had been a rough day for Nick Zito.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - A disappointing Saturday turned delightful for trainer Nick Zito in a little over 108 seconds as Commentator went gate-to-wire and held off favored Saint Liam by a neck to win the Grade 1, $750,000 at Saratoga.

It was nine lengths back to Sir Shackleton, also trained by Zito, in third. Swingforthefences, Limehouse, Eurosilver, Wiggins, and Pollard's Vision completed the order of finish.

It was the first Whitney victory for Zito, and it couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Monday, Zito will be inducted into racing's Hall of Fame. Before the Whitney, however, Saturday was not going to be among the highlights of his career.

Noble Causeway, one of Zito's highly touted 3-year-olds, was pulled up and vanned off the track in a second-level allowance race. A week earlier, jockey Jerry Bailey had scratched Noble Causeway out of the Jim Dandy. Also Saturday, Zito had to settle for second and third in the Grade 1 Test Stakes with Hide and Chic and In the Gold, who was compromised by a poor start. In the fifth race he sent out Superfly, a 2-year-old making his debut, who hung late and finished third.

"Up and down game, huh?" Zito said. "You just got to keep fighting. . . . This is probably the most important victory of my life because of going into the Hall of Fame Monday."

Commentator, a 4-year-old New York-bred gelded son of Distorted Humor, was 6 for 6 around one turn, but had gotten injured in his only start around two turns, the Grade 3 Hal's Hope at Gulfstream in January. Zito thought it was worth trying two turns again.

Jockey Gary Stevens let Commentator roll out of the gate, and he set fractions of 23.56 seconds, 46.41, and 1:09.76 for the opening three-quarters of a mile while opening a 5 1/2-length lead. Edgar Prado had hustled Saint Liam out of the gate to get position and put him to the outside and in second down the backside.

Saint Liam, who at 122 pounds was conceding six pounds to Commentator, gradually cut into Commentator's lead in the stretch, but fell a neck short at the wire. Commentator, owned by Tracy Farmer, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.33 and returned $8.40.

"I thought we had him the whole way around there," said Richard Dutrow Jr., trainer of Saint Liam. "Just disappointed he didn't win, but he ran a big race."

Commentator and Saint Liam are likely to meet again in the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward at Belmont Park on Sept. 10.

- Saturday's ontrack handle of $5,573,304 was a track record for a non-Travers Day.