In the past few days we've learned Curlin will not be running in the Clark Handicap, one of the last big races of the year. Despite Curlin's absence, the Clark will still have plenty of star appeal, thanks to amazing 7-year-old gelding Commentator, who has become one of the big fan favorites after winning his second straight Whitney this summer.
A week before the race, I decided to catch up with Commentator's owner, Tracy Farmer, one of the real good guys in the industry. Farmer, who also campaigned Sun King and Albert the Great, among other notables, is a board member of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and The Jockey Club, and has donated much of his time and money to promote the industry. In 2006, Farmer was awarded the W.T. Young Humanitarian Award. Farmer's 135-acre Shadowland Farm is in Midway, Kentucky.
JS: Commentator enters the Clark in great form. I'm assuming you're expecting a big race from him?
TF: He loves it here at Churchill. He's from New York so he doesn't mind the cold weather at all. He had a nice bullet work here the other day, so he's all ready.
JS: How much would it mean to you to win the Clark?
TF: It would mean a great deal, being from Kentucky and all. I've never won it and it's a prestigious race. But it's going to be a tough race. There are some really good horses that are going to show up. Once you get into these grade I or II races they're all tough.
JS: Was it disappointing for you to hear that Curlin would not be showing up in the Clark?
TF: Yes it was. It would have been great for the fans to see. But I understand. They have to do what's best for Curlin. He's had a brilliant career and I have nothing but admiration for him.
JS: Before this year many thought Commentator was best as a sprinter or even a miler. I guess he's proven people wrong?
TF: We used to think that too (laugh). But he's learned how to rate and he likes it. He just doesn't slow down, even at nine furlongs. When you open the Racing Form and see that he has the best Beyer this year under and over a mile, that tells you all you need to know about him. He's very special.
JS: He seems to be in better form as a 7-year-old as he's been in his whole career. How do you explain that?
TF: I really don't know to be honest with you. He does seem to get better the older he gets. Nick Zito does a great job of taking care of him and we don't race him too often. I'm sure that helps. It's pretty unbelievable.
JS: You made the decision not to run Commentator in the Breeders' Cup. Was it more about him not being ready or the fact that the race was on a synthetic surface.
TF: Winning a Breeders' Cup has always been a goal of mine, so it was a little disappointing. But Nick thinks dirt horses are bred for dirt, and he's said it before that he thinks synthetics are the same as turf. It was up to him. I'm the owner and I had the final decision but it would have to be an extreme situation for me to override the trainer. Hopefully I can get back there one day.
JS: Assuming he is sound, are you planning on running Commentator next year?
TF: Oh yeah, that's the plan. I hope and pray that he is healthy. Our main goal is to win the Whitney for a third time. That would be something special. But we'll take it one race at a time and let him tell us how he's doing.
JS: Where will he go after the Clark?
TF: He'll go to Palm Meadows in Florida. That's been his routine for a while now. He's knows the routine better than we do. Last year he set the track record in the Richter Scale, so we'd like to shoot for running him down there sometime in March or April.
JS: Where will Commentator go after he retires?
TF: He'll go to my farm so I can look at him every day. He's such a lovely horse. Carol and I have so many special memories with him. He's wonderful.
JS: Commentator has become a big fan favorite over the last couple years. Why do you think that is?
TF: I think the fans have gotten to know him and become attached. And they like winning money on him (laugh). When he's at Saratoga he has such a following. He gets a big crowd at each one of his workouts. It's really nice to see that. I hope we get to run him until he's 10. I'd like to see him become the oldest horse to ever win a graded stakes race.
JS: What's his personality like?
TF: He's not a mean horse, but he's got a bit of an attitude. He nips at Nick all the time. I'm too smart to let him get me (laughs). He's good and he knows it. When he's in the paddock he's all business. And when he loses, he gets really upset. He's a smart horse.