Sparkling Commentary

In 2005, I spent the day of the Whitney on the beach in Massachusetts, visiting friends from my time in London who have no interest in horse racing. Much as I enjoyed the weekend, I’ve never quite gotten over missing Commentator’s thrilling win over St. Liam that afternoon.

Watching a horse win by multiple lengths isn’t quite the same as watching him gut out a stretch duel, but being present for Commentator’s two Grade I/ “Win and You’re In” victories this year has done a little to mollify those three-year-old feelings of regret–particularly as one of them brought me back to Massachusetts, not all that far from the beach on which I sat in 2005.

The five and a half hours that I spent at Suffolk Downs on Saturday afternoon provided enough moments, images, and photos for a week’s worth of posts, so this one will be limited to the MassCap, with a broader look at Suffolk to follow.

Several hours before the race, responding to an acquaintance’s wishes of good luck in the paddock, trainer Nick Zito acknowledged the possible threat posed by Riversrunrylee, a local entrant who likes the lead as much Commentator does. No surprise that Riversrunrylee went right to the lead, opening up a length advantage over Commentator that he held until the top of the stretch; following the race, John Velazquez noted that Commentator “left pretty well,” and that on the backstretch he’d taken the seven-year-old back. The gelding who had not been headed in his four previous wins relaxed along the backstretch and kicked away with little urging from Velazquez, pulling away to an embarrassingly easy fourteen length victory.

The story in pictures, with thanks to Jeanne Wood of Capital OTB, whose keen eyes spotted the flowers and the trophy:

Awaiting the winner…

The MassCap trophy, nestled under the stairs in the winner’s circle

Team Commentator, walking to the paddock before the race

In the paddock

Nick and Kim Zito, watching their horse on his way to the starting gate

Crossing the finish line

Owner Tracy Farmer characterized the win as “beyond description”; when asked about next steps for Commentator, Farmer referred the question to Nick Zito. When asked by TVG’s Jill Byrne whether the Breeders’ Cup Classic or Dirt Cushion Pro-Ride Dirt Mile (though “dirt” has been dropped from the name of the Marathon, the Breeders’ Cup website still misleadingly calls the shorter race the Dirt Mile) was on the calendar, Zito, sounding as though all options were open, said that they’d go back to the barn and “see what Commentator says.” Before continuing, Zito stopped to dedicate the race to John Hettinger, the equine activist who recently passed away; given Hettinger’s work to advance humane treatment of racehorses and Suffolk’s recently adopted anti-slaughter policy on the backstretch, it was a particularly appropriate moment to remember Hettinger: “This race belongs to him,” said Zito. Regarding next steps, Zito said, “We’ll put our heads together. We love a challenge, and we’ll see how he is.”

Congratulations to Commentator and his connections on a stellar 2008: four starts, three wins, one second. OK, so he towered over yesterday’s field, but he showed up, he paid homage to a storied race, and he did his job. Commentator added a victory in another historic race to his impressive résumé, and he delighted the fans at Suffolk on Saturday. Who needs Santa Anita?

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