02/22/2010 12:00AM

Several New York-breds up for top award

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On Sept. 6, 2009, a retirement party was held at Saratoga for Commentator, officially ending the career of arguably the fastest and one of the most accomplished New York-bred runners in history.

Commentator went 1 for 3 in 2009, finishing his career with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, in which he fell three lengths short of joining the legendary Kelso and Discovery as the only horses to win the Whitney three times. With lifetime earnings of $2,049,845, Commentator concluded his career as the third-richest New York-bred, behind Funny Cide and Say Florida Sandy.

The winner of the New York-bred Horse of the Year for a second time in 2008, Commentator will relinquish that crown for 2009 when the New York Thoroughbred Breeders holds its annual award ceremony April 12 at the Gideon-Putnam in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

There are several contenders for Commentator's crown, led by such horses as Haynesfield, Banrock, and Silver Timber, who is the only multiple graded stakes winner among New York-breds in 2009.

Haynesfield, a 3-year-old son of Speightstown bred by Barry Weisbord and Margaret Santulli and owned by Harvey Weinstein's Turtle Bird Stable, was the dominant New York-bred runner in the winter and fall. During Aqueduct's winter meet, he won the Count Fleet and Whirlaway, briefly putting himself on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Following an eighth-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham in March, Haynesfield was put away by his connections - including trainer Steve Asmussen - to allow him to grow up. The time paid off. A May foal, Haynesfield came back to win the $250,000 Empire Classic with a tour-de-force speed run in his second start off a seven-month layoff. He finished his 3-year-old campaign with a 4 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct on Nov. 21.

"It was very gratifying; all the hard work paid off," said Toby Sheets, the New York-based assistant to Asmussen who oversaw Haynefield's training. "Mr. Weinstein is about the horse completely. If there's an issue and you think it's going to get better, he'll let you take as much time as you want."

Though sidelined earlier this winter by a foot injury, Haynesfield is expected to make it back to the races this year.

Haynesfield was one of many talented statebred 3-year-olds who won open-company stakes in 2009. Fiddlers Afleet, who began his year toiling over the synthetic surfaces of Southern California, came east to win three straight races on dirt, including the Albany Stakes at Saratoga and the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park. A son of Northern Afleet bred by Hidden Lake Farm and Richard and Joan Gallagher, Fiddlers Afleet is at the Palm Meadows training center in south Florida preparing for a 4-year-old campaign.

Mr. Fantasy, a son of E Dubai and a half-brother to the 2008 3-year-old New York-bred champion, Tin Cup Chalice, won the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct. His season was cut short because of an injury, but he is scheduled to return for a 4-year-old campaign.

Banrock, a 6-year-old gelded son of Go for Gin owned and bred by Ruth Bedford's Nyala Farm, is one of several turf horses that could be considered for two New York-bred awards. Banrock won the four traditional statebred stakes held by the New York Racing Association - the Kingston, West Point, Ashley T. Cole, and Mohawk. Though he went 0 for 3 against open company, Banrock was beaten a nose by Eclipse Award finalist Presious Passion in the Monmouth Stakes in June.

Banrock is due to return to trainer Tom Bush's barn in March.

Get Serious won three turf stakes, including the Grade 3 Red Bank at Monmouth Park. Straight Story won an allowance race but finished second in four stakes, including the Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap.

Cannonball, a son of Catienus owned and bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, was a world traveler in 2009. He raced twice at Royal Ascot, where he was beaten a neck in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee, and once in Hong Kong. In the U.S., he competed at five racetracks. He lost three graded stakes by a combined half-length, and that doesn't include his third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. He kicked off his 2010 campaign with starts in Australia.

Silver Timber, a 6-year-old son of Prime Timber, began his year in a $25,000 claiming race at Gulfstream Park. He was taken by Chad Brown on behalf of owners Michael Dubb and High Grade Racing and went on to win 4 of 6 starts, including the Grade 3 Jaipur at Belmont and Grade 2 Woodford at Keeneland. He finished sixth in the Breeders Cup Turf Sprint.

Those turf horses will not only battle for male turf champion but should also garner support in the older male category, along with dirt specialists Future Prospect, Wishful Tomcat, and Giant Moon. In eight starts in a six-month span, Future Prospect won six races and came in second twice. Wishful Tomcat went 4 for 4 against New York-breds despite missing six months with an injury. Giant Moon won the Grade 3 Excelsior in April.

Silver Timber could also be in the running for New York-bred sprinter. His competition will include dirt specialists Driven by Success, who won the Hudson Handicap and finished third in the Grade 1 Carter and Grade 1 Metropolitan handicaps, and Mor Chances, who went 4 for 4 in dirt sprints against New York-bred company.

Ibboyee, a son of Medallist bred by Patricia Purdy and campaigned by Anstu Stables, was the most accomplished statebred juvenile, with victories in the Aspirant, New York Breeders Futurity, and Damon Runyon. He was beaten by Fenway Faithful in the Sleepy Hollow Stakes in the Belmont slop on New York Showcase Day.

Franny Freud and Mineralogist head the list of New York-bred juvenile fillies. Franny Freud, bred by Anthony Grey, went 4 for 6, with open-company stakes wins in the My Dear and Ontario Debutante at Woodbine and restricted stakes victories in the Lady Finger at Finger Lakes and Fifth Avenue Division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Aqueduct.

Mineralogist, bred and owned by Chester and Mary Broman, swept the Joseph A Gimma and Maid of the Mist Stakes at Belmont.

There could be an interesting battle for 3-year-old filly honors. Among New York-breds, Don't Forget Gil came closest to Grade 1 glory when she was beaten a neck by Funny Moon in the Coaching Club American Oaks. Her only win came in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks at Tampa, and she also finished second in the Grade 2 Comely.

Mother Russia and Rightly So each won five races, with Mother Russia winning five stakes. Mother Russia, a daughter of Mayakovsky bred by Philip Birsh, won from six furlongs on dirt to 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Rightly So, bred by Sequel 2003, finished second in her career debut, then won five straight races, including one against older horses in the Iroquois on New York Showcase Day.

In the female sprinter division, multiple stakes winners By the Light and Dance Gal Dance lead the way.

As was the case in the male divisions, the top older filly and mares on turf could also garner the award for older female. You Go West Girl, bred by Gallaghers Stud, finished the year with wins in the John Hettinger and Ticonderoga against statebreds and lost the Grade 3 Cardinal by a head.

I Lost My Choo, owned and bred by Flying Zee Stable, won the Grade 3 Honey Fox and the Mount Vernon, for statebreds but suffered a season-ending injury after running second the James Penny Memorial Handicap at Philadelphia Park in July.

Canadian Ballet won three stakes, including the $200,000 Turf Amazon at Philadelphia Park.

The most accomplished older female dirt runner was Weathered, who won the Rare Treat and Grade 3 Next Move during Aqueduct's inner-track meet.