Updated on 09/15/2011 12:41PM

Albert needs great Whitney

Email
Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Jorge Chavez aboard Albert the Great, who has not been very lucky in Grade 1 races.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Like a meal that doesn't fully satisfy, Albert the Great's delicious victory in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap earlier this month at Belmont left owner Tracy Farmer and trainer Nick Zito a little hungry.

Sure, Albert the Great defeated Unshaded and Include, avenging the two most heartbreaking losses of his career. But those defeats - a head to Unshaded in last year's Travers and a neck to Include in this spring's Pimlico Special - were in Grade 1 races. For all his accomplishments, Albert the Great is 1-3-0 in five Grade 1 attempts heading into Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga. His sole Grade 1 win was in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last year.

"I think Albert is deserving of the Grade 1's," said Zito. "When you lose the Donn, lose the Pimlico Special, lose the Travers, it's frustrating. Any one of those Grade 1's he could have won. If he wins the Whitney, he makes up for it."

Albert the Great will be heavily favored to win Saturday's $750,000 Whitney, the final leg of the NTRA Champions Series, which drew a field of seven. The 1 1/8-mile race will be broadcast live on CBS Sports beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern. If Albert the Great wins, he will claim the series championship and earn a total of $720,000 in purse and bonus money.

Equally as important, a win could put Albert the Great on the verge of clinching an Eclipse Award as the leading older horse in the country as well as strengthen his credentials for Horse of the Year.

Albert the Great was assigned topweight of 124 pounds, conceding nine to 12 pounds to his six rivals. One of those rivals is Unshaded, who at equal weights caught Albert the Great in the final jump to win last year's Travers.

That was the first time Jorge Chavez rode Albert the Great, and he was caught off guard when the horse attempted to duck in during the stretch drive. Albert the Great took Chavez from a few paths off the fence right to the rail, which was not the best part of the track.

"That day the rail was so heavy, and it cost me the win," Chavez said.

In the Suburban, Chavez kept Albert well off the rail. Saturday, he'll break from post 7, but Zito does not plan to instruct Chavez to keep him as wide.

"The turns are a little sharper," Zito said. "You wouldn't want him all the way out there. But you want him in the clear. And if any one of the jockeys - and you know who I'm talking about - tries to hang him up, I'm telling Jorge to just go."

Zito was referring to Jerry Bailey, one of the best race riders in the game and the pilot aboard Lido Palace, the runner-up in the Suburban and the likely second choice in the Whitney. Lido Palace raced with blinkers on for the first time in the Suburban, and trainer Bobby Frankel felt they helped him significantly.

"He's got room to improve; he just turned 4 years old," Frankel said, referring to the fact that Chilean-breds celebrate their birthday on July 1. "I'm hoping the two turns will even help him more. The blinkers seemed to help him a lot. They got him into the bridle a little more."

Frankel is hoping for a contested pace up front and may get it with the presence of Pleasant Breeze. Pleasant Breeze has four wins and three seconds in eight starts at Saratoga. Last summer, he won two races here as a front-runner. Pleasant Breeze gets in light at 114 pounds.

A contested pace and the fact that this race is run around two turns figure to benefit Unshaded, who finished a distant fifth behind Albert the Great in the Suburban. Trainer Carl Nafzger said he made a mistake in the Suburban, instructing jockey Robby Albarado to keep him well off the pace. Saturday, Nafzger will give a leg up to Pat Day in what Nafzger described as an important race for his horse.

"This is our Continental Divide," he said. "We've got to get over it, or we're in trouble."

Perfect Cat, Gander, and Elite Mercedes complete the field.

Go to Saratoga coverage.

for entries.

Subscribers, to purchase Past Performances.


Non-subscribers, to purchase Past Performances.