06/29/2005 11:00PM

Commentator reaches an elite level


NEW YORK - June 29 was Wacky Wednesday at Belmont Park, one of those cards where it seems like there's a new oddity every half-hour. There was a race where a loose horse interfered with the field for the entire race; a couple of summer squalls that changed the footing in a matter of moments; two victories for jockey Chantal Sutherland, previously 0 for 44 at the meet; and the case of the poor bridge-jumper who unloaded to show on a 2-5 shot who finished fifth, beaten 17 1/2 lengths, in an 11-furlong grass maiden race where the first three finishers all paid more than $20 to show.

Amid the chaos and parimutuel carnage, though, came one of the most brilliant performances by a sprinter in recent years: Commentator won the third race by 16 1/2 lengths, running seven furlongs in a near-record 1:20.23 and earning a monstrous Beyer Speed Figure of 121.

Granted, this came in an optional-claiming race where two late scratches, including the prescient withdrawal of Roman Ruler from his season debut, left a field of four. So Commentator's romp came with an easy front-running trip at 1-5 against three overmatched rivals, but those are the same knocks people put on Ghostzapper's 128 in last year's Iselin Handicap and he turned out to be pretty legit. In fact, Commentator's 121 is the second best Beyer Figure earned by anyone in American racing this year, behind only Ghostzapper's 122 in the Met Mile.

Since 2000, only five horses have run a Beyer higher than 120 in a race at a mile or shorter: Ghostzapper's 122 in the Met equaled Swept Overboard's 2002 Met and 2001 Ancient Title, and Aldebaran's 2003 Forego. Left Bank in the 2002 Tom Fool and Shake You Down in the 2003 Smile both ran 121's.

That's some heady company for the 4-year-old Commentator who, like Funny Cide, is a New York-bred son of Distorted Humor. The victory was his sixth in seven career starts, all of them runaways of at least seven lengths. After winning his first five starts by a combined 43 1/4 lengths, earning three triple-digit Beyers including a 112 at Churchill Downs, he stopped badly in his first try beyond a mile in the Hal's Hope on Jan. 8 at Gulfstream. Wednesday's tour de force was his first start since then.

It's unclear how effective Commentator can be without the clear early lead he has enjoyed in every start, and it might be unreasonable to ask him to run another 121 when he faces early pressure and better horses going forward. The raw talent is absolutely there, though, and Commentator could add some second-half spark to a depleted older-horse division. He's a gelding, too, so we could have some fun with him for a while.

Parity prevails in Grade 1 events

With half the 2005 calendar year now officially in the books, the results of the very top level of American racing have if nothing else been highly democratic. The racing schedule is backloaded, with 68 of the year's 100 Grade 1 races still to be run, but the first 32 of those races have been most remarkable for the lack of dominance in every equine and human category.

The 32 Grade 1 races have gone to 30 different horses, with only Afleet Alex (Preakness, Belmont) and Saint Liam (Donn, Stephen Foster) winning more than one. So the six Grade 1's for 3-year-old fillies, the six for older grass males, and the five for older dirt fillies have each had a different winner.

No trainer or jockey has won more than three of the 32. Todd Pletcher (Forest Danger, Bandini, and Ashado) and Bobby Frankel (Leroisdes-

animaux, Ghostzapper, and Saint Liam in the Foster) top the trainers, though one could argue that Saint Liam's Foster belongs in Rick Dutrow's ledger, which would give him three as well, including Saint Liam's Donn and Sis City's Ashland.

The riders with three Grade 1 wins are: Jerry Bailey (High Fly's Florida Derby, Summerly's Kentucky Oaks, and Good Reward's Manhattan), Javier Castellano (Bellamy Road's Wood, My Trusty Cat's Humana Distaff, and Ghostzapper's Met Mile), and Edgar Prado (Saint Liam's pair and Smuggler's Mother Goose). Corey Nakatani, Jeremy Rose, Gary Stevens, and Pat Valenzuela each has a pair.

Just two owners and one breeder have more than one Grade 1 winner so far. Jerry Moss has won with Tarlow and Giacomo, and the Phipps Stable owns and bred both Good Reward and Smuggler.

The 30 individual Grade 1 winners came from 26 different sires, with only Awesome Again (Ghostzapper, Round Pond), Saint Ballado (Ashado, Saint Liam), Storm Cat (Sweet Catomine, Good Reward) and Unbridled (Eddington, Smuggler) having a pair apiece.

The only runaway leader comes is in the birthplace department: 21 of the year's 30 Grade 1 winners are Kentucky-breds. Five were bred overseas, three in Florida, and one in California. That leaves six months for Commentator or Funny Cide to put New York back on the map.