05/30/2008 11:00PM

Albarado, Carroll back in new roles

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Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Robby Albarado will try to add the Belmont to his Southwest win on Denis of Cork.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - David Carroll and Robby Albarado both know what it's like to play a part in major Belmont Stakes drama. Carroll was the everyday exercise rider for the 1989 Belmont winner, Easy Goer, and Albarado was narrowly beaten last year aboard Curlin when Rags to Riches became the first filly to win the race in more than a century.

This year, Carroll and Albarado are teaming together in the Belmont with Denis of Cork, one of the top threats to Big Brown in his quest for the Triple Crown.

"Either we're going to make history," Carroll said Friday at his main base, Churchill Downs, "or we're going to witness it."

Denis of Cork finished third, beaten 8 1/4 lengths, behind Big Brown in the May 3 Kentucky Derby, after which Carroll immediately announced that he would skip the Preakness to set his sights on the Belmont, which will be run for the 140th time Saturday at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

Carroll said Friday he could not be more satisfied with how Denis of Cork, the Harlan's Holiday colt he trains for William and Suzanne Warren, came out of the Derby and now approaches the Belmont. Denis of Cork figures to be the third wagering choice, behind Big Brown and Casino Drive.

"We're going in there feeling as if it's Big Brown's race to lose," Carroll said. "But if he stubs his toe, and our horse runs his best race, who knows what can happen?"

Carroll, a 48-year-old native of Kildalkey, Ireland, came to the United States in 1984, then worked six years as an exercise rider for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey before opening his own stable in 1992. He recalls watching the 1989 Belmont, in which Easy Goer foiled the Triple Crown bid of his archrival Sunday Silence, alongside one of McGaughey's assistants at the time, Tony Reinstedler.

"I forget exactly where we were watching from, but I do remember we were going absolutely crazy," Carroll said.

Albarado knows the other side of that Belmont coin. Coming into the 2007 renewal off his stirring victory in the Preakness, Curlin tried to match strides down the stretch with Rags to Riches but just couldn't, losing by a head.

"In hindsight, I thought it was a good race, at least for the sport," Albarado said. "I wasn't too happy with the outcome, but my horse ran really hard in all three of the Triple Crown races, and obviously the rest of the year worked out real well for us," a reference to Curlin earning the 2007 Horse of the Year title.

For Albarado, the last 12-plus months have been magical. By winning his first Triple Crown event, his stature has become elevated, a fact that helped in getting the mount aboard Denis of Cork.

"The last year has been kind of surreal," Albarado said.

Calvin Borel, who also won his first Triple Crown event last year when capturing the Kentucky Derby on Street Sense, rode Denis of Cork in the Derby, but Warren sought out Albarado because he has won nine Grade 1 races at Belmont Park.

"I had no issues with Calvin," Carroll said. "He gave him a great ride in the Derby and brought me back a sound horse. Third was the best the horse could have done that day. Mr. Warren was adamant on getting Robby, based on his Belmont record, and he's the boss."

Albarado has ridden Denis of Cork once, winning the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18 at Oaklawn Park. That victory capped a three-race winning streak to begin Denis of Cork's career. Following the Southwest he didn't race again until April 5, when he finished fifth in the Grade 2 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, his Kentucky Derby prep.

"He has a good running style," Albarado said. "He sits back and waits to make his run. Hopefully, Casino Drive will apply some pressure to Big Brown. I guess Big Brown's minor ailments make him vulnerable," a reference to the recent quarter crack that Big Brown evidently has overcome.

"The Belmont's always been a giant killer."

Denis of Cork, he added, "is training really well. He's going into the race really good. We'll just let things materialize. I think he's capable. He's certainly got potential. He showed in the Derby he's got some finish. He was running to the wire."

Denis of Cork was scheduled to have what Carroll described as a "maintenance breeze, something real easy," after the harrow break Monday morning at Churchill. He and the other Churchill-based starter in the Belmont, Macho Again, will be flown to New York by charter Tuesday morning.

Carroll said he was asked recently whether he was training Denis of Cork to run his best race, "or to beat Big Brown."

His reply: "I said, 'When you figure out how Big Brown can be beat, let me in on it.'"

"Obviously, I just have to focus on Denis," Carroll said. "We're going up there hoping this horse's best race is yet to come. He deserves the opportunity. Realistically, we have to go in there thinking that Big Brown will be very tough, but obviously the Belmont is a unique race. The Triple Crown hasn't been won in 30 years, and there's a reason for that. Hopefully, it'll be 31 years or more, and we'll be the reason for that."