07/01/2001 11:00PM

Albert benefits from home-field edge


ELMONT, N.Y. - A step in the right direction.

At mid-point in the racing season, Albert the Great is on the lead for the championship of the handicap division. His weekend performance in the $500,000 Suburban Handicap was strong from start to finish, and he beat a nice field of horses on a track he obviously favors. He is now 6 for 7 at Belmont Park and is favored by circumstances which call for the Breeders' Cup to be run here this fall.

Albert the Great is scheduled to make his next start at Saratoga, in the $750,000 Whitney Handicap on July 28. The remainder of his races this year - the Woodward in September, the Jockey Club Gold Cup in early October, and the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 27 - will be at Belmont Park.

When he won the Dwyer Stakes here last summer, Albert the Great took the track at the start and led all the way, scoring by a convincing three lengths. In many of his subsequent appearances, however, he raced off the pace with mixed results. He went to the front emphatically in last month's Brooklyn Handicap, which he won with authority, and repeated those tactics with equal success in the Suburban, conceding weight to all and stepping the 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.39.

He appears to be a free-running horse of considerable quality, with the stamina to carry his speed a classic distance. One would guess it will take a very good horse to beat him now, and it may be that the 3-year-old generation will provide his most formidable competition.

Lido Palace, the Chilean import who ran well in Dubai and in Chicago in recent months, improved with the addition of blinkers, as his trainer, Bobby Frankel, suspected he would. His second in the Suburban confirmed the high regard in which he is held by his trainer, and we are likely to hear more from him soon. Include, too, ran well to be third in the Suburban, and we will follow his challenge in the Whitney with considerable interest.

Fleet Renee steps up, too

Just as Albert the Great took a decided step last weekend toward a divisional title with his victory in the Suburban, so, too, did Fleet Renee enhance her credentials as the leading candidate for honors among the 3-year-old fillies. She delivered a ringing endorsement, winning the $250,000 Mother Goose by more than five lengths.

It wasn't a complete surprise. Fleet Renee, a homebred daughter of Seattle Slew owned and bred by Verne Winchell, won the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland this spring, beating the highly regarded Golden Ballet, now retired by injury. But Fleet Renee came up flat in the subsequent Kentucky Oaks and was soundly beaten by Flute.

Flute and Fleet Renee were to renew their rivalry in the Mother Goose but Flute bruised a foot and was forced to defect.

The nine-furlong Mother Goose drew a competitive field, with Fleet Renee favored at 2-1. Forest Secrets, the Acorn winner, and Mystic Lady, the Jersey Derby winner, cut out a realistic pace, while John Velazquez had Fleet Renee in stalking position. Fleet Renee moved decisively on the final turn. She led by more than two lengths at the eighth pole and continued to draw away, completing one of the fastest runnings of the Mother Goose, in 1:47.19. Real Cozzy, the Fair Grounds Oaks winner, was second, edging the developing filly Exogenous.

Michael Dickinson, who trains Fleet Renee, attributes the filly's dull effort in the Kentucky Oaks to insufficient time between starts. She wants to be completely fresh, he says, and he will employ that strategy now. Dickinson plans only two more starts this season for Fleet Renee, the Alabama at Saratoga on Aug. 18 and the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Belmont Park on Oct. 27.

It is worth noting that owner-breeder Winchell has been racing good horses for a long time. His Donut King, trained by Ron McAnally, won the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park 40 years ago and was one of the top 2-year-olds of the 1961 season. He's had many good ones in the interim, including Mira Femme, Sea Cadet, Olympio, Tight Spot, and Amerique, but Fleet Renee could be one of the best.