Bullsbay, at 18-1 the longest shot in the field of six, took the lead from Commentator in upper stretch, opened up a clear advantage at the eighth pole, then held the late-running Macho Again at bay late to win the $750,000 Whitney Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths before 39,568 at Saratoga on Saturday. Macho Again was second by 1 1/2 lengths over Commentator, who ran third. He was followed in the order of finish by Tizway, Dry Martini and Smooth Air, the 2-1 favorite.
Asiatic Boy, a popular pick among handicappers, was scratched the morning of the race due to a temperature he developed on Friday.
Commentator, the 8-year-old New York-bred gelding, was seeking to join racing greats Discovery and Kelso as the only three-time winners of the Whitney. Commentator won the race in 2005 and 2008.
"He gave it everything he had," said Nick Zito, the trainer of Commentator, who added that he would like to see owners Tracy and Carol Farmer retire the 8-year-old New York-bred gelding. Commentator surpassed the $2 million mark in earnings in the Whitney.
Though the Whitney was deemed a wide-open race, Bullsbay was still made a distinct outsider. Perhaps his 10th-place finish in the Hollywood Gold Cup - run over a synthetic surface - had something to do with that. However, in his previous three dirt starts, Bullsbay had two wins and was beaten just 1 1/4 lengths when fourth in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster.
Trainer Graham Motion said the Whitney was a race he had marked down for Bullsbay earlier in the year, but became slightly hesitant about after the Hollywood Gold Cup. Owner Steve Mitchell suggested they take a shot anyway.
"The way the field came up, the way it shaped up for us, it was absolutely the right decision," Motion said. "I have to give him the credit. He didn't have to twist my arm too much."
As expected, Commentator set the pace as John Velazquez sent him to a one-length lead through an opening quarter in 23.49 seconds. He maintained that advantage over a chasing Tizway and Smooth Air through a half-mile in 46.38 seconds, and stretched it out to two lengths through six furlongs in 1:10.11.
"He was sharp enough to get out away from the other horses, but the pace was just too fast," Velazquez said.
Jeremy Rose, meanwhile, had Bullsbay about 12 lengths off the pace in fourth and along the rail. Bullsbay launched a strong bid around the far turn, and by the time Commentator got to the quarter pole, Bullsbay was right on his hip, which actually concerned Motion a bit.
"The problem we have with this horse is making the lead too early, and to be honest Jeremy made the lead a little early today," Motion said. "But Jeremy said the others kind of fell apart in front of him."
"I made the lead way too early, but I couldn't help it," Rose said. "He was just cutting through traffic way too easy."
Motion said he got a little nervous when Macho Again was making a run at Bullsbay, but he needn't have worried as Bullsbay got to the wire first, covering 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.12. He returned $38.80 to win.
By winning the Whitney, Bullsbay earns an automatic berth into the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 7. While Bullsbay ran poorly over Hollywood Park's synthetic surface, he has a win and two seconds from three starts over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride.
"The Santa Anita [surface] is completely different," Motion said. "He ran very well at Santa Anita before, and he trains great over the Tapeta at Fair Hill," Motion said. "He just didn't handle Hollywood. I can't say we're not going to think about it."