08/09/2008 12:00AM

Al Basha declared ready to roll


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - By the end of 2007, an argument could be made that Al Basha was the best New York-bred turf horse in training. Losses by a neck and a nose prevented Al Basha from ending his 3-year-old season last year with a five-race winning streak.

Though his 4-year-old season has gotten off to a belated start, Al Basha looks primed to return to top form Sunday when he faces nine New York-bred rivals in the $100,000 West Point Handicap at Saratoga. The West Point, carded at 1 1/8 miles on the outer turf, shares billing on the 11-race card with the $100,000 Yaddo for New York-bred fillies and mares, a race rescheduled from Saturday. The West Point goes as race 7.

Al Basha, trained by Angel Penna Jr., lost the Ashley T. Cole by a nose last September before winning the $150,000 Mohawk at Belmont by a half-length in October. Penna was looking to run Al Basha in a turf stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill in November, but the plan didn't work out. In Florida this winter, Penna said, Al Basha went the wrong way, and he had to completely stop training him.

"I lost a lot of time with him," Penna said.

Al Basha made it back to the races on July 16 at Belmont, finishing fourth in an open-company second-level allowance race. Penna said that effort "set up him real good" for Sunday's race. Al Basha, who breaks from post 9 under Cornelio Velasquez, is 2 for 2 over Saratoga's turf course.

Banrock, another West Point entrant, took advantage of a swift pace and made a sustained four-wide move around the turn and into the stretch to win the Thunder Puddles Stakes on July 6 at Belmont.

"I think he has improved this year," said Banrock's trainer, Tom Bush. "He needs to [keep improving]; that looks like a deep field to me. He's done well up here, he's run well up here in the past. Hopefully, we got an 'A' race coming."

Classic Pack has won turf stakes here each of the last two years, including last year's West Point at 13-1. Classic Pack was a late-closing third behind Banrock and Gimme Credit in the Thunder Puddles. Gimme Credit is 2 for 2 at Saratoga.

Mission Approved won the Grade 3 Saranac here last summer. He was used up in a speed duel with Sudan in the Grade 1 Man o' War last month at Belmont.

Foreverness, a 9-year-old gelding, finished second in this race in 2004 and third in 2007.