08/28/2006 11:00PM

Win or lose, Farmer loves the game

Email
Horsephotos
"It's amazing to get that close. In the Whitney, when I looked at it, I thought we'd won it by the bob. When you look back, I was probably looking at it from three feet past the wire." - Tracy Farmer, on Sun King's narrow defeat in the Whitney

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Spend a few minutes with Tracy Farmer and there's no mistaking he's from Kentucky. But through the thick Kentucky accent, there's also no denying his passion for New York racing.

Since 1997, when he partnered with prominent breeder Robert Clay in the champion mare Hidden Lake, Farmer, along with his wife, Carol, has won some of this circuit's biggest races, including the 2000 Jockey Club Gold Cup with Albert the Great and last year's Whitney Handicap with Commentator. Conversely, Farmer suffered some excruciating losses in big spots.

Two months before Albert the Great won the Gold Cup, he was beaten a head in the Travers. This year alone, the multiple graded stakes winner Sun King lost the Metropolitan Handicap by a head and the Whitney by a nose.

"I just need horses with longer noses, I guess," Farmer joked.

Before heading back to Kentucky, where he owns a string of automobile dealerships, the 67-year-old Farmer could be in line for a big final weekend of the Saratoga meet when he runs horses in three Grade 1 races. On Saturday, Farmer, whose horses are trained by native New Yorker Nick Zito, is slated to run Commentator in the Forego and Sun King in the Woodward. On Monday, closing day at the Spa, Farmer and Zito will send out the maiden winner Irish Ace in the Hopeful for 2-year-olds.

"I have a better chance than a great number of people because we have a horse in the race," said Farmer, who owns the 135-acre Shadowlawn Farm in Midway, Ky. "We're looking forward to it. In racing you never know, maybe it'll be our day."

Both Sun King and Commentator have had many good days. Sun King has a record of 6-4-4 from 20 starts and earnings of $1.9 million. He has won two Grade 2 stakes and two Grade 3 events. In 10 Grade 1 stakes tries, Sun King has three seconds and three thirds.

"They all have stories behind them," Farmer said. "Nick and I don't have an answer for it. I know the jockey and everyone tries as hard as they can. It's amazing to get that close. In the Whitney, when I looked at it, I thought we'd won it by the bob. When you look back, I was probably looking at it from three feet past the wire."

Farmer's even-keel demeanor in victory and defeat is something Zito admires about him.

"I have a lot of good owners but I'm very fortunate to train for him," Zito said. "I like people that are the same when they win and the same when they lose. One time, he flew up from Kentucky, we ran a favorite at Belmont, and he didn't win. He said, 'Nick, it won't be the last time we lose.' "

Sun King is so versatile that Farmer and Zito were contemplating entering him in the seven-furlong Forego as well as the Woodward to get a line on both races. New York rules don't permit entering in two races on the same card. One of Sun King's biggest wins came when he rallied from last to win the Grade 2 Commonwealth, a seven-furlong race, at Keeneland.

Perhaps if Farmer didn't have Commentator, he would run Sun King in the Forego. But Commentator is one of the top one-turn horses in the country, and the Forego offers the 5-year-old gelding a chance to win a second Grade 1 race.

Overall, Commentator - a New York-bred son of Distorted Humor - has won 8 of 10 starts, including last year's Whitney when he held off Saint Liam, who would become Horse of the Year. So fearful of Commentator in the Woodward was Saint Liam's trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr., that he ran two rabbits at Commentator to set things up for his horse. Dutrow plans to run Silver Train in Saturday's Forego and has mentioned the possibility of running a rabbit at Commentator again.

"They did it according to racing rules," said Farmer, who finished second in last year's Woodward with Sir Shackleton. "I wouldn't have done it."

Commentator got hurt in the Woodward and didn't return until last month, when he won a New York-bred stakes at Belmont Park by 6 1/4 lengths. Because Commentator is a gelding, Farmer and Zito are being judicious when spotting him because "we want to have him around for a long time," Farmer said.

As a native Kentuckian, Farmer naturally has hopes of winning the Kentucky Derby. Farmer's only Derby starter has been Sun King, who finished 15th in 2005. It's way too early to project Irish Ace as a Derby horse, but his debut was certainly promising. Irish Ace, a homebred son of Grand Slam, went gate to wire under Eibar Coa to win by four lengths and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 88.

"Irish Ace matured quickly, and he got on top of his game quicker than the other horses," said Farmer, who says he has approximately 18 2-year-olds. "Nick takes his time with them, but we do have a good crop. We hope to have success in the future."

While Farmer hopes for continued success on the track in New York, he could emerge as one of the more influential power brokers off the track. Farmer is a staunch Democrat, and a few months ago he held a Democratic Party fund-raiser at his Kentucky farm that was attended by Eliot Spitzer, the favorite to be elected New York's next governor. Spitzer is likely to have the final say on who is awarded the franchise to run Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga beginning in 2008.

"I'm not assisting with any of these groups; I just think he'll make the right decision pertaining to racing in New York," Farmer said of Spitzer. "Could you imagine the rest of the country's racing if we didn't have racing in New York? We had a very successful fund-raiser; we took him to breeding farms, showed him everything. He really enjoyed it. He's very charismatic. This bidding process is so complicated, but at the end of the day I think he'll make the right decision if it's his decision to make it."