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Zito, Frankel leery of a synthetic Cup
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Less than 24 hours after Commentator and Ginger Punch stole the show here Saturday, winning the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap and Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap, respective trainers Nick Zito and Bobby Frankel began thinking of the future - and the uncertainties their horses might face if they are pointed for the Breeders' Cup, which will be run for the first time over a synthetic surface at Santa Anita in October.
Both the Whitney and Go for Wand were designated Win and You're In events for the Breeders' Cup, so Commentator and Ginger Punch are guaranteed berths in the BC Classic and Ladies Classic, respectively.
Commentator, 7, led throughout to capture the Whitney for the second time in his amazing career. He upset Saint Liam to win the 2005 Whitney and had a much easier time registering a 4 3/4-length decision under jockey John Velazquez on Saturday.
"On his best day he's as good as any horse ever," Zito said of Commentator.
Last year's Eclipse older female, Ginger Punch successfully defended her title in the Go for Wand, overcoming an extremely eventful trip before edging away to a 1 1/4-length triumph for Frankel and jockey Rafael Bejarano.
Commentator is the second-oldest horse to win the Whitney. Kelso won it at age 8 in 1965.
"I said right after he won the Richter Scale this winter at Gulfstream Park that we were going to point for and win this race again," Zito said. "It has to be one of the most satisfying victories of my career."
Zito said he is seriously considering the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs on Sept. 20 for Commentator's next start, as a possible stepping-stone to the Breeders' Cup.
"The timing and the distance of the Mass Cap are obviously good for him," said Zito. "I can't get a two-turn race at a mile and one-eighth for him at Belmont. And I also like what the owners of Suffolk Downs are doing regarding their no-tolerance policy regarding horse slaughter. They are humanitarians and I agree wholeheartedly with the stance they've taken when it comes to rescuing horses. That's a big reason I'm considering sending Commentator up there for the race."
Zito is less than thrilled, however, at the prospect of having to run Commentator over a synthetic surface if he and owner Tracy Farmer decide to send Commentator to Santa Anita, which is renovating its track for the Oak Tree meet.
"Form is completely different over the synthetic surface right now," said Zito. "And I wonder if we'll be really judging a true champion or not following the Breeders' Cup races this year. Commentator did work over the Polytrack at Keeneland several years ago and handled it fine. But training and racing over synthetic tracks are two different things. I'd love to run in the Breeders' Cup, but right now it's a big question mark."
Frankel echoed those sentiments regarding Ginger Punch's status for the Breeders' Cup. Ginger Punch captured the 2007 Breeders' Cup Distaff over a very sloppy track at Monmouth Park to complete her championship campaign.
"Everybody's concerned about racing on the synthetic track at the Breeders' Cup, not only me," said Frankel. "We don't even know how it's going to play. What if the new track they put down plays like Del Mar did last summer or Keeneland when they first got the Poly? Are you going to change a horse's running style? It's just not going to be a true test. But if she's all right I'm probably going to run. You've got to try. She has trained over the synthetic track at Hollywood Park and she went well on it. But most horses do."
Frankel said he would be under no pressure to run Ginger Punch in the Breeders' Cup, even though owner Frank Stronach is also the CEO of Magna Entertainment, which operates Santa Anita.
"Frank is great about that type of stuff," said Frankel. "If I tell him I don't want to run the horse, she won't run."
Frankel said Ginger Punch's next start, and final Breeders' Cup prep, would likely come in the Beldame at Belmont on Sept. 27, although he left open the possibility of bringing her back in the Personal Ensign here on Aug. 22.
"You know how I change my mind," said Frankel. "I also have Spring Waltz for those races. I scratched her Saturday because I didn't have her ready for the Go for Wand, although I think she could have won that race too."
Curlin's next target still cloudy
The status of reigning Horse of the Year Curlin also remains up in the air, not only regarding the Breeders' Cup but as to when, where, or even over what surface he will race next.
Curlin continues to look sharp, working an effortless five furlongs in 1:03.04 over the Oklahoma training track early Monday morning. After the work, both trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Jess Jackson, who was on hand for the breeze, remained uncommitted regarding any future plans for their star.
"That was just like Curlin," Asmussen said. "He just does exactly what you ask and does it just as you would expect he'd do it. Right now I'm very pleased where he is soundness- and health-wise, both physically and mentally. As for future plans, nothing has been eliminated. Everything is still up in the air."
Possible options for Curlin during the Saratoga meet include the Grade 1 Woodward on Aug. 30 or the Grade 1 Sword Dancer on turf Aug. 16.
Asmussen had a somewhat frustrating weekend with second-place finishes in three major stakes. Copper State finished second to Ginger Punch in the Go for Wand, Student Council was second behind Commentator in the Whitney, while Pyro just failed to run down Macho Again in Sunday's Grade 2 Jim Dandy.
"We had a very good weekend, running second in three excellent races, although you always want to win," said Asmussen. "I was very disappointed immediately after the Jim Dandy because I thought Pyro would win that race. But he did get bumped and shuffled back to last after the start, and they weren't doing too much closing over that track on Sunday, so putting all those circumstances together I think he ran a pretty good race."
Asmussen said he would strongly consider bringing Pyro back for the Travers on Aug. 23.
"It's a little quick, back in 27 days, so we'll just have to see how he's doing between now and then," he said.
Mambo in Seattle possible for Travers
Trainer Neil Howard will also give the Travers much consideration for his improving 3-year-old Mambo in Seattle, who posted his third consecutive victory by outgaming You and I Forever in the Henry Walton overnight stakes on Sunday. Mambo in Seattle's final time of 1:50.98 for the 1 1/8 miles was .18 of a second faster than Macho Again covered the same distance winning the Jim Dandy 30 minutes later.
"He had feet issues when he was a baby and we had to be very patient with him," Howard said Monday. "The one thing I really like about this colt is his demeanor. He didn't turn a hair in the paddock yesterday. Not that I'm comparing them ability-wise at this point, but I haven't been around one with that type of demeanor since Mineshaft."
Howard, who sent out Grasshopper to finish a close second behind the odds-on Street Sense in the 2007 Travers, said he will consider all the obvious 3-year-old options for Mambo in Seattle's next start.
"The first three finishers in the Jim Dandy looked good and we'll have to see what happens this weekend in the Haskell, but it's fair to say we're going to consider the Travers fairly seriously," said Howard.
Howard also noted that Grasshopper came out of his third-place finish in the Whitney in good order.
"Commentator was fantastic but I thought our horse ran well," said Howard. "Any plans for his next start are up in the air at the moment."
* Divine Park worked four furlongs in 48.46 seconds on Monday, and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said the Metropolitan Handicap winner remains on target for the Woodward.
* Asmussen breezed J Be K an easy five furlongs in 1:04 Monday at Oklahoma as he continues to point his speedy 3-year-old for the Grade 1 King's Bishop on Aug 23.
* Tergesti ran for purse money only after his stablemate Successful Affair injured himself and was scratched just moments before Monday's opening race. Tergesti proceeded to win the optional claiming race for New York-breds in gate-to-wire fashion with runner-up Lorccan becoming the winner for wagering purposes.