01/23/2009 12:00AM

Albarado heats up at halfway point

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NEW ORLEANS - At the halfway mark of the Fair Grounds season, the jockey leader board has a familiar look to it. First place: James Graham, who finished second last year. Second place: Jamie Theriot, who won the title last year for the first time. And third place: Robby Albarado, six-time Fair Grounds leading rider.

After arriving three weeks into the meet, Albarado has made up for lost time by winning at a prodigious 22 percent clip, booting home 10 winners in the last week alone.

Although he has been hot of late and is getting quality mounts more often than most, Albarado, 35, is not a lock to win his seventh riding title. Albarado rides some quality horses who are based elsewhere and is scheduled to miss more than a few days at Fair Grounds in the coming two months.

While a top-tier jockey for many years, Albarado's breakthrough year was 2007, when he piloted Curlin to victories in the Preakness and Breeder's Cup Classic.

Albarado was to be at Gulfstream on Saturday to ride in all four Sunshine Millions stakes. He will return to Gulfstream next weekend to ride Danger to Society in the Holy Bull. In February, he'll be back at Gulfstream to ride Secret Gypsy in the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie. These commitments will keep him away from his Fair Grounds winter base, but he isn't complaining.

"I want to be on top everywhere I go, but I'll trade it in for a Kentucky Derby or a Breeders' Cup," Albarado said.

Mad Flatter returns to top form

Mad Flatter was a promising 3-year-old here last spring. After winning a 1 1/16-mile allowance as a 2-year-old, he finished third in the Grade 3 Lecomte at 3. Then came the injury, a large fracture in his right front knee, and Mad Flatter was dealing with surgery and the possibility of a diminished future.

On Thursday, in his second start back, he proved that he is still a force, winning a second-level allowance by five lengths. He covered a mile an 40 yards in 1:38.93, just .41 of a second off the track record.

"He ran better than I thought he might," trainer Jeff Thornbury said. "I thought he would need another start."

More exciting to Thornbury than the win was having Mad Flatter back healthy and able to race again.

"The nice thing is that he's returned to the level he was at before the injury," Thornbury said. "We'll wait and get him back on the track before we decide where to run him next; he might go in a stakes, maybe an allowance."

Diamond Tycoon improves in United States

It's not that Diamond Tycoon was a bad horse in Great Britain, with a maiden victory and a second-place finish in the Spring Trophy Stakes. But since arriving at Fair Grounds, he is a perfect 2 for 2 over the turf.

His last win came in a second-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 15. He came from eight lengths back to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

His improving form is in part because he is facing weaker competition than he did in some of his stakes races in Great Britain, but also because he has learned to relax, both before and during races.

Reading comment lines of his past performances in Great Britain, one sees the notation "sweating."

His trainer, Andrew McKeever, believes Diamond Tycoon is thriving, in part, because of his preference for the American racing routine, where horses can train and race at the same location. In Europe, most horses are based at their trainer's facilities.

"Seems like he's doing much better in America," McKeever said. "He had to ship every time he ran over there, and he used to get hot in the shipping van and sweat a lot."

Sweating before the start, he would then race aggressively right out of the gate and have nothing left, a habit exercise rider John Byrne has worked to break.

"He was too keen back in England, he would always make a run too early," Byrne said. "Andrew had to teach him how to relax and settle."

The results have been impressive and have McKeever contemplating Diamond Tycoon's first start in an American stakes. Though a February race remains a possibility, McKeever said Diamond Tycoon would likely go in the $60,000 Allen LaCombe Memorial on March 7 or the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Memorial on March 14.