11/28/2008 12:00AM

Commentator tries to cap big season

Barbara D. Livingston
Commentator won 13 of 20 career starts and more than $1.84 million.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nick Zito has won the Kentucky Derby twice, but the Clark Handicap only once - and that with an asterisk. Quest, the 2003 Clark winner for Zito, was elevated from second to first on the disqualification of Evening Attire.

Zito will be looking to square the tallies Friday when he sends out heavily favored Commentator in the Grade 2 Clark, the annual fall-meet highlight at Churchill Downs. Commentator, one of the fastest horses to run on any American racetrack in recent years, surely will be the one to catch in the $400,000 Clark, which drew a field of eight for its 134th running.

As Zito is fond of saying: "He's Commentator," which is meant to say it all. Indeed, with Beyer Speed Figures of 119 and 120 this year, Commentator does a lot of his explaining on the racetrack, where the lightly raced 7-year-old gelding has won 13 of 20 career starts and more than $1.84 million.

"He should run big, as he always does," said Zito, who won the 1991 Derby with Strike the Gold and the 1994 running with Go for Gin.

Owned by central Kentucky businessman Tracy Farmer, Commentator has won 4 of his last 5 races, most recently taking the Sept. 20 Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs by 14 lengths. He was the 1-10 favorite in the Mass Cap, and although he won't be such a minuscule price Friday, he still figures to be odds-on.

Commentator will be ridden by John Velazquez when he carries high weight of 124 pounds in the 1 1/8-mile Clark. Zito is aware the race shapes up with very little, if any, challenging speed for Commentator, so he expects Velazquez to sit chilly for as long as possible.

"As long as there isn't any kind of rabbit in against him, he's tough," Zito said. "I don't know whether anyone can challenge him - unless they want to be suicidal."

Commentator, a two-time winner of the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap (2005 and 2008), will race next year at 8, with a third Whitney being the prime objective, Zito said.

Besides Commentator, Zito also will run the only 3-year-old in the Clark field: Anak Nakal, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes here a year ago. Zito called Anak Nakal "a formidable adversary" and "a good horse who's getting better."

Anak Nakal, winner of the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby two starts back, will be ridden by Jesus Castanon.

If Zito can't get his second Clark win, it could well be because of Magna Graduate. The leading earner in the field with more than $2.56 million, Magna Graduate will be making the 35th and final start of his career Friday. His last race, a drawing-off victory in the one-mile Ack Ack Handicap here opening day, showed his sharp recent form. Now 6, Magna Graduate captured the 2005 Clark as a 3-year-old.

Other Clark contenders include Delightful Kiss, a well-traveled 4-year-old exiting the Breeders' Cup Marathon; Timber Reserve, the 2007 Pennsylvania Derby winner; and Einstein, a multiple Grade 1 winner.

Of those fringe players, Einstein may be the most dangerous despite returning from a 3 1/2-month layoff. Heretofore a grass specialist, the 6-year-old horse ran well enough on the Churchill main track to be second to Curlin in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap here in June.

Wayzata Bay and Dominican round out the lineup.

The Clark anchors what traditionally is the most well-attended program of the fall meet. Although Churchill no longer releases attendance figures, the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend has tended to draw crowds of 20,000 or more.

Besides the Clark, which is carded as the 11th of 12 races, the Friday program also includes three allowances (races 4, 9, and 10), including one in which Da' Tara, trained by Zito, will seek his first victory since he upset the 2008 Belmont Stakes in June.

First post is 11:30 a.m. Eastern.