04/04/2008 12:00AM

Albarado retains his hot hand

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Gloomy weather and an earlier disqualification couldn't keep Robby Albarado down. But really, what can these days? Six days removed from the richest victory of his career aboard Curlin in the Dubai World Cup, Albarado was at it again Friday when he booted home the winner of the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes, highlight of the opening-day card at Keeneland.

Albarado gave Boss Lafitte a clever rail trip in the $150,000 Transylvania, and the colt responded by taking the lead at the top of the stretch and holding off Riley Tucker to win by a half-length. Budge Man finished third, and Prussian, the front-runner and 8-5 favorite, faded to fourth in a field of eight 3-year-olds.

Albarado, riding for the first time since guiding Curlin to a romping score in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 29, had endured disappointment earlier in the day when his mount in the fourth race, Great Thought, was disqualified from an apparent victory for interference in deep stretch.

But the jockey quickly regrouped, winning the sixth race aboard Honest Pursuit, then returning some 90 minutes later to capture the Transylvania aboard Boss Lafitte, a 9-1 shot owned by the Uptown Racing LLC of Marc Winston and Robert Levy. Tom Amoss, the trainer of Boss Lafitte, said the Crown Royal American Turf, set for the May 2 Kentucky Oaks undercard at Churchill Downs, is likely next for Boss Lafitte, a son of Dynaformer.

The Transylvania, like one other race on the 10-race opener, was transferred from the turf to the main Polytrack surface because of heavy overnight rain. Heavy clouds and wind, but no rain, were in evidence Friday until just before the eighth race, when a steady drizzle moved in. The dank conditions helped to limit the ontrack crowd to 11,561.

The meet started with the disqualification of the apparent first-race winner, Above Board, for repeatedly bumping an unplaced rival down the stretch. The stewards awarded victory to Party Crasher while lowering Above Board, ridden by Jamie Theriot, to fifth.

The third race was the first of the year in Kentucky for 2-year-olds - and it was a Curlin connection that nailed that one, too. Steve Asmussen, who trains Curlin, was represented by the 3 1/2-length winner, Merkel, who returned $4.40 as the favorite under Shaun Bridgmohan.

Two years ago, Asmussen enjoyed an incredible Keeneland spring meet with 2-year-olds, winning 7 of the 12 races offered. Earlier in the week, when asked about his 2-year-olds of 2008, Asmussen said: "We'll see when they run." Further pressed, he conceded: "I like them. But of course I like them."

Criminologist returns in allowance

One of the many good things about Keeneland is you never know when a good horse might turn up in an everyday race. Such will be the case Sunday when Criminologist, a late-blooming mare who ended 2007 with four straight victories, including three stakes, will make her 5-year-old debut in the fifth race, a $67,000 allowance at a mile on the turf.

Criminologist ended last season with a victory as the favorite in the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap in November at Churchill, after which trainer Shug McGaughey gave her a little time off before returning her to training in south Florida.

"I thought about running her at Gulfstream, but when the Keeneland book came out, I thought this would be a great spot for her," said McGaughey. "This race could set us up for any number of things, maybe at Churchill, Belmont, or Pimlico. It's only April. This kept me from having to rush her into a race in Florida and then back into the Jenny Wiley" on the Keeneland turf next Saturday.

Criminologist, with John Velazquez to ride, will break from the inside post in a field of eight fillies and mares.

Miner's Claim joins Blue Grass lineup

Trainer Mark Casse said Friday that he intends to run Miner's Claim next Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes, bringing the prospective field to at least six.

Miner's Claim was defeated for the first time in three career starts when he finished a close second in his season debut to Big Glen in the Rushaway Stakes on the March 22 Lane's End undercard at Turfway Park. He won both starts at 2.

Pyro is the heavy favorite in a Blue Grass field also expected to include Cool Coal Man, Visionaire, Monba, and Cowboy Cal.

Battaglia quits Churchill TV gig

Churchill announced Friday that Mike Battaglia has resigned from his role as the in-house television handicapper but will remain as program linemaker. Before moving to television in 1997, Battaglia called the races for nearly 20 years at Churchill.

Battaglia, who lives about 90 minutes from Churchill in northern Kentucky, said the commute to Churchill had become "burdensome." He will continue to work as a commentator and handicapper on major racing events for NBC Sports.

Jill Byrne, who for the last few years has been employed in television at Churchill, will assume the duties of in-house handicapper.

* Amoss and jockey Orlando Mojica are nearing notable milestones. After the Transylvania, Amoss had 1,991 career victories, while Mojica had ridden 995 winners. Another Kentucky-based jockey, John McKee, recently hit the 1,000-win milestone at Turfway Park.

* Lady Belsara, winner of the Grade 3 Chicago Handicap last summer, has been retired because of a minor injury apparently sustained in a Wednesday work at Turfway, according to trainer Matt Kintz. Lady Belsara, owned by the At the Moment Stables, won 6 of 13 starts and $248,864. She was the beaten favorite in her final start, the St. Patrick's Day Handicap at Turfway.

* Cliff Guilliams, who has called race charts for Daily Racing Form and Equibase on the Kentucky circuit since 1986, got married for the first time. Guilliams, 52, married his new wife, Susan, on March 14 in Florida with Charlie Hebel as best man.

* Infield flags flew at half-staff Friday in honor of longtime Keeneland director "Buddy" Bishop, who died the previous day. Bishop, 64, was lauded by Keeneland president Nick Nicholson as a man whose life "literally was intertwined with Keeneland."