01/06/2005 1:00AM

Now it gets tough

Four Footed Fotos
Commentator, unbeaten in five starts, will race beyond a mile for the first time in the Hal's Hope.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Dynever is a Grade 3 stakes winner and millionaire and finished third in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic. Purge has won a pair of Grade 2 stakes. Badge of Silver is a Grade 3 stakes winner and finished second in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile. Added Edge won the Sovereign Award as Canada's champion 2-year-old.

Despite the strength and class of the competition, all eyes will be on the undefeated and still untested Commentator in Saturday's $100,000 Hal's Hope Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

The Grade 3 Hal's Hope is one of three stakes races to be decided Saturday at Gulfstream, along with the $125,000 Aventura Stakes for 3-year-olds and the $100,000 . The Hal's Hope lured a field of 13 older horses.

has won each of his five starts by margins ranging from seven to 10 1/2 lengths. His lone stakes victory came against 3-year-olds in the ungraded Perryville Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 14. The 1 1/8-mile Hal's Hope will mark Commentator's first try beyond a mile and first around two turns.

"I'm surprised this race came up so tough with a purse of only $100,000, although in a way I'm not," said Zito who trains the New York-bred Commentator for Tracy Farmer. "This is like spring training down here in Florida, and there just aren't that many spots for handicap horses at this time of the year. And the race is a prep for the Donn Handicap."

Commentator's performance in the Hal's Hope will help Zito decide what course to take with his unbeaten gelding during the remainder of the season.

"This is definitely his biggest test thus far, a huge step to take with him right away," said Zito. "But we want to see if he's good enough to go to the Donn or if we need to backtrack and look in a different direction."

Despite some of the uncertainties Commentator faces coming into the Hal's Hope, Zito has complete confidence in his horse.

"The distance has got to worry you a bit, but he's done everything right so far," said Zito. "I've got a lot of confidence he'll run extremely well on Saturday."

As for strategy, Zito is laying his cards on the table.

"Even though I don't think he has to be in front, I'd prefer to see him on the lead," said Zito. "If anybody tries to go with him early, they might hurt our chances but they'll obviously kill themselves."

Because of his lack of stakes experience, Commentator will carry 115 pounds, including Pat Day, in the Hal's Hope, which means he will receive a two-pound weight concession from Dynever and one apiece from Added Edge and Purge.

was purchased privately by the Buckram Oak Farm last week. A 5-year-old son of Dynaformer, Dynever remained in trainer Christophe Clement's care following the sale.

Dynever concluded his 2004 campaign with a second-place finish in Hollywood Park's Native Diver Handicap. In his previous start, Dynever finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic after being forced to race wide and move prematurely after breaking from an outside post. He drew post 12 for the Hal's Hope.

Dynever's only victory last season came in Santa Anita's Grade 3 San Bernardino Handicap. He was also second in the Grade 2 Brooklyn and Meadowland Breeders' Cup handicaps.

closed out his 3-year-old campaign with a sixth-place finish when he faced older horses for the first time in the Cigar Mile. He captured the Grade 2 Peter Pan and Jim Dandy stakes earlier in the season.

, the Sovereign Award winner as Canada's top 2-year-old in 2002, has won a pair of stakes in three starts since switching to trainer Dale Romans's barn this summer and appears to be back on top of his game.

also changed barns last season when he came under trainer Bobby Frankel's tutelage. The son of Silver Deputy enters the new year off perhaps the best effort of his career when second behind Lion Tamer in the Cigar Mile.

The remainder of the field is The Judge Sez Who, Country Judge, Smooth Lover, Contante, Deputy Lad, Wake at Noon, Collateral Damage, and Alleged Ruler.

The field

Hal's Hope Handicap
Purse: $100,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 3

1The Judge Sez WhoK. Fallon11450-1
2Country JudgeJ. Castellano11320-1
3Smooth LoverC. Olivero11350-1
4ContanteE. Prado11220-1
5CommentatorP. Day1153-1
6Badge of SilverJ. Bailey1152-1
7Added EdgeP. Husbands 1166-1
8Deputy LadE. Nunez11350-1
9Wake at NoonH. Castillo Jr.11350-1
10PurgeJ. Velazquez1166-1
11Collateral DamageB. Blanc11250-1
12DyneverJ. Santos1175-2
13Alleged RulerC. DeCarlo11150-1

* Odds by Art Gropper