ZITO SAYS COMMENTATOR IS ‘POSSIBLE' FOR CLARK HANDICAP - Two-time Whitney Handicap (Grade I) winner Commentator could end his successful racing season at Churchill Downs with a bid for the 134th running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GII).
Trainer Nick Zito said Wednesday that Tracy Farmer's 7-year-old gelding is "possible" for the Clark, the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up that, like the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and the Kentucky Oaks (GI), has been run without interruption since the track's first meet in 1875.
The son of Distorted Humor scored a dominating 14-length victory in the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs in his most recent start on Sept. 20, but Zito decided against a trip to Santa Anita for a run over the synthetic Pro-Ride surface in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. Commentator is enjoying the finest year of his career with wins in four of five races and earnings of $1,025,700 on the season. Along with his win in Whitney's Saratoga, a race that he won for the first time in 2005, he also won the Richter Scale Handicap (GII) at Gulfstream Park and suffered his only loss in a strong runner-up finish to Divine Park in the Metropolitan Handicap (GI) at Belmont.
Commentator has raced only once at Churchill Downs, but turned in a dazzling effort with an eight-length victory over a "good" track in a one-mile allowance race in late November 2004. The then-unbeaten New York-bred led every step that day as he covered the distance in 1:35.91 in notching his fifth victory.
"It's a possibility," Zito said by telephone of a run by Commentator in the Clark. "I still have to talk with Tracy, but it's the end of the year and he likes Churchill. He likes anywhere, but he proved that he liked Churchill. The Clark is a prestigious race and Tracy's a Kentuckian - and we run on dirt."
Zito has been a frequent critic of synthetic surfaces and did not take any horses to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup World Championships. The Breeders' Cup Classic had been in Zito's plans for Commentator, but the two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer said he simply ran out of time with his veteran.
"I couldn't make the Breeders' Cup - I wanted to bad," he said. "But he does need time in between races. The Clark is a good stop-off, it's a good end of the year race. So it's a possibility. We'll talk before we decide anything, but right now it's what we're looking at."
Commentator is currently training at Saratoga. He has a career record of 13-1-2 in 20 races with earnings of $1,841,936.
SIZZLING McPEEK POINTS DREAM EMPRESS TOWARD GOLDEN ROD - Trainer Ken McPeek roared out to a sizzling start on Churchill Downs' 119th Fall Meet when he notched four wins on Sunday's opening day program, and he has designs on a big finish to the meet with current stable star Dream Empress.
McPeek said Wednesday that Live the Dream Racing LLC's runner-up to likely 2-year-old filly champion Stardom Bound in the $2 million Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) is scheduled to make her next start in the $150,000-added Golden Rod (GII) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29, the closing day of the 26-day meet.
"We're happy with the race," said McPeek. "Obviously you want to win, but she's going to come back in the Golden Rod."
The daughter of Bernstein rolled from far off the pace to finish second to the unbeaten Stardom Bound in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) over the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Oak Tree at Santa Anita. She was beaten by 2 ½ lengths in that outing, which came on the heels of her emphatic 4 ¼-length victory in the $500,000 Darley Alcibiades (GI) at Keeneland.
Dream Empress finished a fast-closing fourth in her racing debut in a one-mile maiden race on turf at Ellis Park in July, and then scored a narrow maiden victory on grass at Saratoga. She followed those races with her impressive stakes efforts on synthetic tracks, so the Golden Rod will mark her racing debut over traditional dirt. McPeek believes his new star will handle that assignment, but said she has yet to even train over traditional dirt.
"I think she can handle about anything, but I do think she handles the turf and the Poly(track) really, really well," he said. "Good horses, I think, run over anything, and I think she is that."
And McPeek will use the 1 1/6-mile Golden Rod as a guide in mapping out the filly's winter and spring plans.
"This is a good test for her," he said. "If she were not to run well in the Golden Rod, we'd probably relegate her to turf and ‘Poly' for a while. But there's a lot to be learned still."
Although McPeek has a barn at Churchill Downs, he said Dream Empress had not trained over the dirt track here. She has done most of her training over the Polytrack surface and has settled back in at the Lexington track following her return from California.
Her runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies boosted the career record of Dream Empress to 2-1-0 in four races with earnings of $748,850. She will bid to give McPeek his first victory in the race after a pair of runner-up finishes. He finished second in last year's running with CJ's Leelee and in 2001 with Take Charge Lady.
Despite his near-miss in the Breeders' Cup with Dream Empress, Sunday's quick start on the Churchill Downs Fall Meet left McPeek smiling. He said it marked the first time in his career that he had won four races in a single day.
"I've won three at multiple racetracks," he said. "I know I've done it at Churchill, Keeneland, Ellis, Monmouth and Turfway - but never four."
McPeek credits the change in his operation, which now involves a training facility at his Magdalena Farm in Lexington, with recent success that included a close runner-up finish to Mike Maker in the battle for leading trainer of Keeneland's Fall Meet.
"In the new set-up we're really doing a better job than we've ever done," he said. "I've got the ability to take a horse over the farm if it needs a little time, even if it's just a week. We're able to peak ‘em out a little bit, and they're doing well. I've got a good team of people and I've got good horses and all if it adds up to w's."
McPeek's four opening day wins came from five starters. Maker won three races on Sunday.
BARN TALK - Millennium Farm's Rolling Sea will not defend her win in the $150,000 Chilukki (GII) when the race is run for the 24th time on Sunday. Trainer Steve Asmussen said that Rolling Sea would stay in the barn as Millennium's Copper State gets the call in the one-mile Chilukki. The 4-year-old daughter of Jump Start finished a distant second to Tough Tiz's Sis in her most recent start in the Ruffian (GI) at Belmont Park, but was beaten only 1 ½ lengths by Eclipse Award winner Ginger Punch prior to that in the Go for Wand (GI) at Saratoga. The Illinois-bred filly is looking for her first graded stakes victory. ... Julien Leparoux and Robby Albarado are tied for leading jockey honors after strong opening day performances on Sunday. Both jockeys won three races on Sunday's 11-race program. Miguel Mena notched a pair of wins to keep pace with the leaders. Albarado won the Churchill Downs Spring Meet title, his first riding crown at the track, while Leparoux is the defending fall champion and has three "leading rider" titles in his possession. Mena finished second to Albarado in the Spring Meet race.
WORK TAB (Track: FAST) - Bassinet runner-up More of the Best breezed three furlongs for trainer Bernie Flint. ... Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (GIII) winner Bayou's Lassie breezed five furlongs in 1:01.20 for trainer Dale Romans.
FRIDAY HAPPY HOURS RETURN - New Orleans-themed Friday Happy Hours return for the Fall Meet with $2 Budweiser Select, $2 hurricanes and $2 Fischer's hot dogs to complement live jazz music on-track between 3-5 p.m. The promotion will take place every Friday at Churchill Downs through Nov. 21.
TWO-YEAR-OLD HANDICAPPING SEMINAR ON SATURDAY - Those looking to hone or improve their handicapping skills, particularly with juveniles, are invited to attend a special Two-Year-Old Handicapping Seminar on Saturday, Nov. 1, which doubles as "Stars of Tomorrow I." Participants will be served breakfast; take a trip to the paddock to better understand a 2-year-old's physical and behavioral characteristics; receive in-depth tips and analysis of that day's Stars of Tomorrow I program by Churchill's John Asher, racing analyst Jill Byrne, Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee and clocker John Nichols; and receive reserved seats in Skye Terrace. There also will be a raffle for door prizes. The seminar will begin at 9 a.m. ET and the cost to attend is $25 (only $20 if the password "Street Sense" is mentioned). Call (502) 636-4400 to reserve a spot.
"IN SEASON" RETURNS SATURDAY ON WAVE-3 - "In Season," Churchill Downs' weekly magazine-style television program hosted by John Asher, returns to the Louisville airwaves on NBC affiliate WAVE-3 this Saturday. The half-program will air from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. every Saturday during the Fall Meet through Nov. 22.