06/07/2001 11:00PM

Albert ought to own Brooklyn


ELMONT, N.Y. - Whether he's celebrating his first Belmont Stakes victory or coming to grips with another Belmont defeat, trainer Nick Zito has $150,000 worth of reasons to get out of bed Sunday morning.

That is the winner's share of Sunday's Grade 2 $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont, a race Zito figures to win with Albert the Great. Albert the Great, who breaks from the rail under Jorge Chavez, is the only Grade 1 winner in a field of seven that includes Dubai invader State Shinto and stakes winners Perfect Cat and Gander. The 113th Brooklyn, part of the "NTRA Champions" series, will be televised live nationally on CBS Sports beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern.

Graded stakes winners Traditionally, Pleasant Breeze, and Graeme Hall all passed the race for various reasons.

The Brooklyn wasn't on Albert the Great's original schedule. But after a heart-breaking neck loss to Include in the Pimlico Special, combined with how eager the horse has been in his training, Zito decided to point for this race.

Zito and owner Tracy Farmer considered next Saturday's $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, but Zito felt he would rather wait until later to meet Captain Steve and Unshaded. Moreover, Albert the Great is 4 for 5 at Belmont Park with wins in the Dwyer Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

If Zito has one concern Sunday it's the three to 10 pounds he must concede to his six rivals. Zito was perplexed why Albert the Great, who carries 122 pounds, picked up a pound off his loss in the Pimlico Special.

Like Albert the Great, Gander does his best work at Belmont Park. He has a 4-1-1 record from 10 starts here and ran a solid second to Albert the Great in last fall's Jockey Club Gold Cup. After a freshening from two races in Florida, Gander won

a fourth-level allowance race by 5 1/4 lengths on May 10.

"If Albert shows ups and runs his race, he's going to be tough to beat," said John Terranova, trainer of Gander. "But I think we're really in good shape. If Albert doesn't run back to his Jockey Club Gold Cup maybe this could be Gander's turn."

State Shinto, from the barn of Godolphin Racing, is an intriguing newcomer to the field. A Group 2 winner on turf in France, his connections believe he might be better on dirt. He won a mile conditioned race in Dubai before finishing fourth, 3 1/2 lengths behind Captain Steve, in the Dubai World Cup.

Perfect Cat, winner of the Schaefer Handicap last out, Country Be Gold, Top Official, and Justification complete the field.