03/31/2009 11:00PM

Commentator tunes up for Charles Town trip


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - There were only a few dozen patrons on hand at the time but those who showed up an hour early for Wednesday's card at Gulfstream Park were treated to a much better show than the replays from Tuesday's races at Philadelphia Park or Beulah. Instead they got to see one of the most talented, versatile, and crowd-pleasing horses in the country - the ageless Commentator, who worked a half-mile over the main track shortly after noon.

With jockey Joe Bravo aboard, Commentator broke off at the half-mile pole and posted fractions of 12.32 seconds, 24.06, and 35.79 before completing his drill in 47.74 and galloping out five-eighths in 1:01.35. The 8-year-old Commentator went along effortlessly without need of urging from Bravo, who had all he could do to keep the horse from going any faster.

"The further he went, the more he wanted to go," Bravo told trainer Nick Zito as he dismounted after the work. "He thought he was running."

Simulating the racing experience was part of Zito's motive for working Commentator during the afternoon rather than the morning as he continues to prepare his horse for his 2009 debut in the Charles Town Classic on April 18. Zito even had Commentator's handlers bring him to the paddock and walking ring to be saddled just as if he were going to run.

"He got a little warm in the paddock and a little excited when he heard track announcer Larry Collmus's voice on the replays in the background," Zito said as he walked through the tunnel and out toward the racetrack just a few strides behind Commentator. "And I'm glad I've got Joey to work him. He knows exactly what to do."

And Zito got exactly what he wanted from both Bravo and Commentator during the work.

"He went along at an even pace, was nice and relaxed, and galloped out strong," Zito said. "We were hoping to get a race for him here last weekend, it didn't happen, and I really appreciate what management did for us today to make this work out."

The 1 1/8-mile Charles Town Classic, which will be Commentator's first start since his third-place finish behind Einstein in the Gradeo2 Clark Handicap more than four months ago, has been Zito's target all winter. Because Commentator is a Grade 1 winner, he will be running for the winner's share of a $1omillion purse.

"Plus, it will be great to take a horse like Commentator to a track like Charles Town," Zito said. "We're traditionalists and that place has been around forever."

Ward finishes one-two in baby race

The first 2-year-old race of the meet was dominated, as is so often the case at whatever venue he races, by trainer Wesley Ward, who sent out Girl Bar and Miss Lulu Belle to finish one-two in the 2 1/2-furlong dash for fillies on Wednesday.

The official sign did not go on the board for nearly 10 minutes after the roughly run race was completed due to a stewards' inquiry into an incident shortly after the start that compromised the chances of several runners, most notably Miss Lulu Belle and third-place finisher City Wife. Following a lengthy deliberation, the stewards let the original result stand.

It was the first of four races on the card that had a stewards' inquiry, a jockey's objection, or both. The judges took no action in any of the four incidents.

Florida Derby reunion time in Skip Away

A field of seven has been entered for the final graded stakes of the meet, Saturday's $100,000 Skip Away Handicap. The Grade 3 event is led by Finallymadeit, runner-up in both the Gradeo1 Donn and Grade 2 Gulfstream Park handicaps.

The lineup will also include four members of the field from the 2008 Florida Derby - Tomcito, Nistle's Crunch, Cool Gator, and Fierce Wind.

Awakino Cat good fit for feature

Awakino Cat, a second-level optional claiming winner here earlier in the meet, returns under similar conditions for trainer Linda Rice in Friday's $46,000 feature at five furlongs on the turf.

Awakino Cat has won three of his last five starts, including a second-level allowance sprint at the Meadowlands in early October. He is eligible for the race once again on Friday by virtue of the optional claiming condition that allows him to compete under a $50,000 price tag. Awakino Cat has started once since winning his local bow, finishing sixth in the Tampa Turf Dash on March 14.

There will be no shortage of legitimate challengers to the favorite, including Mr. Silver, Big Train, Aircraft Intercept, and Edge of Chaos.