COMMENTATOR SETTLES IN FOR CLARK HANDICAP BID - Tracy Farmer's Commentator has answered a lot of questions in his five-year racing career. But the question of how good a horse he could be was answered at Churchill Downs on a cold November day in 2004.
Commentator had won his first four starts, but on Nov. 25 he was trying a flat mile for the first time.
"I remember that race. Pat Day rode him and he had the rail," trainer Nick Zito said. "He won by eight that day and Mr. Farmer and I were both here and after that race I thought, ‘Wow, this is a great horse.' "
Commentator returned to Churchill Downs on Wednesday and was on the track Thursday morning under regular exercise partner Carlos Correa as he began preparations for a run in the $400,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GII) to be run Friday, Nov. 28.
Commentator, now seven, has won four of five starts this year, with the victories coming by an average of nearly 12 lengths. In his two starts at the Clark distance of 1 1/8 miles, Commentator has won the Massachusetts Handicap by 14 lengths and the Grade I Whitney by 4 ¾ lengths.
"He has had a great year and in popularity, he is one of the top horses in America," said Zito, a two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer who also won the 2003 Clark with Quest. Zito's Clark victory came via the disqualification of the recently retired veteran Evening Attire, who was placed second that day as Zito's horse was elevated to the top spot.
Commentator, who has come back twice from cannonbone fracture injuries, has won 13 of 20 starts and earned $1,841,936. The son of Distorted Humor ranks as one of Zito's all-time favorites that he has had in his barn.
"He's gotta be, no question," Zito said. "He's a great horse, one of the best, to do what he has done to come back like he has. It is a tribute to the horse, the owner and the people in the stable."
WEATHER MAKES CALLWOOD DANCER FEEL RIGHT HOME - Rainy, cool weather greeted Three Chimneys LLC's Callwood Dancer when she arrived at Churchill Downs on Wednesday night from her home base at Woodbine in Toronto.
"It's kind of like home," said Sue Lorimer, who took Callwood Dancer out for a jog over a muddy main track Thursday morning in preparation for Saturday's 36th running of the Cardinal Handicap (GIII) at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
The 4-year-old Irish-bred daughter of Danehill Dancer has three victories and two runner-up finishes from six starts this year at Woodbine for trainer Roger Attfield, who is expected to be on hand Saturday.
"She has just really matured this year," said Lorimer, who was Callwood Dancer's regular exercise rider last winter at Payson Park and off and on during the year at Woodbine. "We knew the ability was there and over the winter, she put on weight and really filled out."
Callwood Dancer owns a victory in this year's Grade II Nassau and in her two most recent starts ran second, finishing ahead of fillies that shone brightly at the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita on Oct. 24.
In the Grade II Canadian, Callwood Dancer finished two lengths in front of Forever Together, who came back to win not only the Grade I First Lady at Keeneland but the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (GI). In the Grade I E.P. Taylor, Callwood Dancer finished a head in front Sealy Hill, the 2007 Canadian "Horse of the Year" and runner-up to the undefeated Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.
Callwood Dancer, who will break from post position five in the 10-horse Cardinal field, is the only runner in the race to have placed in a Grade I grass event this year.
DEFENDING WINNER THORN SONG HEADS LIST OF RIVER CITY ‘CAP NOMINEES - Zayat Stables' Thorn Song, winner of the 2007 running of the River City Handicap (GIII), heads a list of 34 nominees to this year's renewal of the race to be run Saturday, Nov. 22 at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
Ninth in his most recent start in the Breeders' Cup Mile (GI) at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, Thorn Song won the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile last month at Keeneland, and this summer won the Grade II Firecracker, upsetting the favored Einstein, here at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Dale Romans, Thorn Song could become the third repeat winner of the River City. Other back-to-back winners of the River City are Same Old Wish (1996 and '97) and Dr. Kashinkow (2001 and '02).
Other graded stakes winners on the turf nominated to the River City are Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Stream of Gold and Don Benge's Wise River. Stream of Gold, trained by Mike Maker, won the Mac Diarmida (GII) at Gulfstream Park on March 16 and Wise River, trained by Clark Hanna, won the Carey Memorial (GIII) at Hawthorne on Sept. 27.
Weight assignments for the race will be announced Saturday.
BARN TALK - Trainer Mike Maker added to his meet-leading victory total Wednesday when Proven Quality won the second race and Jumponthebandwagon took the nightcap. Maker has saddled 19 winners as the 26-day meet hit the halfway mark Wednesday. This weekend, Maker could break the Fall Meet record of 20 set by Dale Romans in 2003. Maker has no entries Thursday, but has one on Friday and three Saturday. Jumponthebandwagon was owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey and gave the couple their 14th win of the meet. The Fall Meet record of 15 was set in 1965 by T. Alie Grissom and the Ramseys can break that this weekend with three horses entered on Saturday. ... Julien Leparoux, who rode a Churchill Downs-record seven winners on Tuesday, added two winners Wednesday and hit the halfway mark of the meet with 33 victories. The Fall Meet record is 55, set by Pat Day in 1985. ... While Maker has dominated most of the headlines regarding trainers this meet, Dave Kassen is quietly having a stellar autumn racing session. Quick Notice, owned by Butterfly Stable and Jan Nilsen, won Wednesday's sixth race to give Kassen his third winner from just five starters. "The horse ran real good yesterday," said Kassen, whose 60 percent winning rate leads all trainers with three victories or more. Kassen had two winners from 12 starters here last fall, but did not run here in the spring. "Arlington Park opened around Derby Day, and that kind of leaves Churchill Downs out in the spring," said Kassen, who has 13 horses stabled here. ... The maiden victory in Wednesday's fifth race by Overbrook Farm's 2-year-old Big Surf gave the 11-year-old mare Surfside her second winner of the meet joining full sister High Surf. Surfside, who was trained by D. Wayne Lukas and owned by Overbrook, clinched an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly in 2000 when she defeated males in the Clark Handicap. Big Surf, the third foal out of Surfside, was making her second career start for trainer Todd Pletcher. High Surf, a 3-year-old also owned by Overbrook and trained by Dallas Stewart, had won a 1 1/8-mile allowance race on Nov. 2 in her grass debut for her second career victory in seven starts. Big Surf and High Surf are daughters of Storm Cat.
INAUGURAL "RIDER CUP" ON SATURDAY - Retired Hall of Fame jockeys Pat Day and Angel Cordero Jr. will captain Team U.S.A. and Team World, respectively, in Saturday's inaugural "Rider Cup" for charity.
The unique event will showcase American-born jockeys versus foreign-born jockeys in a competition for points in Races 4-8.
Before each of the five designated races, the celebrity team captains will choose one jockey to represent their respective team with hope of earning coveted points. Points will be awarded on a 3-2-1 scale for first, second and third place finishes in each race. If neither jockey hits the board, the rider with the best finish will be awarded a half-point.
The team with the most points at the conclusion of Race 8 will be crowned the winner and a $10,000 donation will be made to the charity of the winning team's choice. The charity of the second place team will win a $5,000 donation.
Pre-race selections by the captains will be showcased on-track with Churchill Downs' John Asher serving as host.
Based on Saturday's entries for Races 4-8, Team U.S.A. will be comprised of Robby Albarado (born in Lafayette, La.); E.T. Baird (Chicago, Ill.); Calvin Borel (St. Martin, La.); Kent Desormeaux (Maurice, La.); Julio Garcia (Santurce, Puerto Rico); Tracy Hebert (Erath, La.); John McKee (Cincinnati, Ohio); Brandon Meier (Elk Grove, Ill.); Larry Melancon (Breaux Bridge, La.); Perry Ouzts (Lepanto, Ark.); Hector Rosario Jr. (Fajardo, Puerto Rico); and Bill Troilo (Philadelphia, Pa.).
Team World will be Shaun Bridgmohan (Kingston, Jamaica); Aldo Canchano (Huancayo, Peru); Jesus Castanon (Mexico City, Mexico); Ramon Dominguez (Caracas, Venezuela); Inez Karlsson (Goteberg, Sweden); Julien Leparoux (Senlis, France); Miguel Mena (Lima, Peru); and Diego Rodriguez (Guanajuato City, Mexico).
DAY, CORDERO AUTOGRAPH SESSION ON SATURDAY - Before the start of Saturday's inaugural "Rider Cup" for charity, Hall of Fame jockeys Pat Day and Angel Cordero Jr. will take part in a free autograph session with area horse racing fans from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the second floor of the clubhouse near the PEB jockey and trainer murals.
HORSES AND HOPE ON SUNDAY - "Horses and Hope," a new initiative created by Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear with the Kentucky Cancer Program, will be held Sunday. The event, centered on the women who work in the barn areas at Kentucky racetracks, is designed to provide breast cancer awareness, education, screening and treatment referral.
In conjunction with the event, the color of pink will be scattered throughout Churchill Downs on Sunday, including the saddle towels for the featured fifth race that will honor "Horses and Hope." Pink will also be featured on jockey's arm bands, groom's vests, outriders, flags, bunting and trophies for winning horse owners. There also will be a special pink cosmopolitan drink on sale with proceeds going to "Horses and Hope."
More than 900 cancer survivors are expected to attend the races in Millionaire's Row Four and Skye Terrance Five on Sunday. After the fifth race, there will be a group picture near the Aristides statue in the paddock garden.
ROBBY ALBARADO GLASS GIVEAWAY ON SATURDAY - The week's promotional calendar is highlighted by the second of three collectable hurricane glass giveaways that salute popular Cajun jockeys who ride at Churchill Downs. A Robby Albarado glass, sponsored by GE, will be given away to the first 5,000 paid and pre-paid admissions on Saturday, Nov. 15.
Fans who receive the glass can come back to Churchill Downs on Sunday, Nov. 16 for an autograph session with Albarado on the second floor of the clubhouse (time to be announced).
A glass depicting Calvin Borel, sponsored by Thorntons, was given away Nov. 8. The Kent Desormeaux glass, presented by Kentucky Derby Party, will be given away on Nov. 22.
FRIDAY HAPPY HOURS - New Orleans-themed "Friday Happy Hours" - featuring $2 Budweiser Select, $2 hurricanes, $2 Fischer's hot dogs and live jazz music by Hambone - will be held Friday from 3-5 p.m. in the upper Jockey Club's paddock balcony area.