11/26/2008 12:00AM

Commentator stands alone in Beyer history


PHILADELPHIA - I went back over 15 years to find horses with similar resumes to Commentator. I could not find any.

I found several well-known horses that ran their way into the Beyer stratosphere of 120 and beyond. I could not find any horses doing it as a 7-year-old, three years after doing it for the first time.

As Commentator gets set to run in the Clark Handicap, savor him. You are seeing something unique.

Commentator is an all-or-nothing horse. The New York-bred gelding has run 20 times, with 13 wins, 1 second, and 2 thirds.

If trainer Nick Zito made a mistake with Commentator through the years, it was in not running him often enough in two-turn stakes races. It was in the 2005 Whitney where Commentator held off eventual Horse of the Year Saint Liam to win by a neck and get a 123 Beyer Speed Figure. And it was this July's Whitney where Commentator won easily and got a 120, an amazing feat for a 7-year-old.

In the race prior to the 2005 Whitney, a seven-furlong optional allowance, Commentator won by 16 1/2 lengths and got a 121 Beyer, the first of his three hallowed-ground Beyers.

And that is exactly what 120 signifies - hallowed ground.

Commentator does not just win; the horse runs out of the TV set. He has wins of 10 1/2 lengths, seven lengths, 9 3/4 lengths, seven lengths, eight lengths, 6 1/4 lengths, 14 lengths, 13 3/4 lengths, and, most recently, in the Sept. 20 Massachusetts Handicap, 14 lengths.

I considered betting against Commentator that day at Suffolk because I thought he was a need-the-lead horse. Turned out he rated behind 54-1 Riversrunrylee, took over with no urging, and dominated.

A similar scenario is possible in the Clark, albeit against a better horse. If gunned, Timber Reserve might be able to beat Commentator to the lead, but there is no way to know if the horse will be sent. Anyway, Timber Reserve chased Commentator in the 2008 Whitney and eventually finished ninth, beaten by 26 1/4 lengths. Beyond Timber Reserve, there is no hint of any speed to run with Commentator.

So, anticipating another Commentator win, I did go back in time to check out most of the horses that have hit the rarefied air of 120 in the time we have published Beyer Speed Figures. None of the names is an unknown.

In 1992, Best Pal, as a 4-year-old, earned a 121 in the San Fernando, a 123 in the Santa Anita Handicap, and a 121 in the Oaklawn Handicap. He ran on for several more years with some success, but never came back to those figures.

In 1994, Holy Bull got a 122 when he won the Metropolitan Handicap in the race after his no-show in the Kentucky Derby, proving that race was the aberration.

Skip Away was not just talented; the horse was really fast, but not as fast as a horse that trounced him twice before Skip Away dominated the 1997 BC Classic.

That year, Skip Away got a 125 in the Pimlico Special, a 122 in the Mass Cap, and a 120 in the Classic. However, another horse, the sadly overlooked Formal Gold, beat Skip Away by a combined 10 3/4 lengths in consecutive races that year. Formal Gold got a 125 when winning the Woodward after getting a 124 in dominating the Iselin. Incredibly, in his race prior to the Iselin, Formal Gold got a 126 at Saratoga but lost by a nose to Will's Way.

That three-race run of 126, 124, and 125 is the best in modern Beyer history. Yet, because Formal Gold was hurt before that year's Breeders' Cup, the horse is just a speed-figure footnote when he should be recognized as one of the fastest horses in the history of American racing.

By the way, the year after he won the Classic, Skip Away won the Mass Cap again, this time with a 121 Beyer.

In 1999, Artax got a 123 in the Carter, another 123 in the Forest Hills, and a 124 when he won the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

In 2002, Left Bank got consecutive 121 Beyers in the Tom Fool and Whitney.

Most recently, there is Ghostzapper. As a 4-year-old, Ghostzapper got a 120 in the Tom Fool, a 128 in the Iselin, and a 124 in the BC Classic. Just to prove how fast he really was, Ghostzapper's only race as a 5-year-old was in the Metropolitan Handicap where he got a 122.

So, there you have it - the gold standard of Beyer figures over the last 15 years. There are some rather prominent horses that did not make the list. That, however, is what happens when the subject of 120 is broached. There is very little room in that club and no room in the 7-year-old 120 club that Commentator does not share at all.