10/26/2004 11:00PM

Albertrani a first-timer only on paper

Kitten's Joy gallops Wednesday morning at Lone Star. His trainer, Dale Romans, is among many who had never been to the Texas track before. "It's a pleasant surprise," Romans said.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Technically, Tom Albertrani will make his Breeders' Cup debut Saturday when he saddles Balletto in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies. Realistically, Albertrani has had more than his share of Breeders' Cup experience already.

Albertrani, 46, has been around horses for more than three decades. He rode briefly before working for some of the most notable outfits in the sport. For nine years, Albertrani was an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

Albertrani has spent the better part of the last decade working for Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Godolphin Racing. He would spend half the year in Europe, half in the United States. When Godolphin decided it was going to operate only from Europe, Albertrani opted to stay in the U.S., where he would train some horses for Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud Management as well as take on some outside clients.

"Because of my family, I thought it would be a good opportunity to settle back in the States and still be part of the operation here under the Darley banner," said Albertrani, who lives in Garden City, N.Y., with his wife, Fonda, and their two daughters.

The year has gone a little slowly for Albertrani, who has won just 8 races from 50 starters. Three of his wins, however, came with Balletto, who in the Frizette became the first horse bred in the United Arab Emirates to win a Grade 1.

"I guess having a filly of that nature is going to get people to notice how you're doing," Albertrani said. "It helps you to have good horses in the barn to get you to that level."

Those who know Albertrani believe he will be successful in the long haul.

"I think he certainly has got the knowledge and the ability to train good horses," Mott said. "I don't think there's any question about that. If he gets the right horses, he'll do a good job. When he was riding them he had a very good opinion of a horse. When he told me one could run, he was rarely wrong."

In particular, Albertrani was spot-on about Paradise Creek, who won 14 of 24 starts and banked more than $2.6 million. Albertrani remembers telling Mott he could be the "best horse you ever trained" after galloping him one morning.

"To me he was a special horse, one of my all-time favorites," Albertrani said.

Paradise Creek ran three times in the Breeders' Cup, finishing second in the 1992 Mile, eighth in the '93 Mile, and eighth in the '94 Turf.

Albertrani also worked for Mott during Cigar's 16-race winning streak, and Albertrani's wife was Cigar's exercise rider. Albertrani left Mott just before Cigar capped off his perfect season with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

During his stint with Godolphin, Albertrani helped prepare Daylami, Fantastic Light, Swain, and Sakhee for Breeders' Cup races. Daylami won the 1999 Turf, and Fantastic Light won the 2001 Turf. Sakhee was beaten a nose in the 2001 Classic, and Swain finished third in the 1998 Classic.

Cup an expensive proposition

Much is made of the steep supplementary fees that must be paid for horses not nominated to the Breeders' Cup to compete in the races. But it's not cheap even for those who are nominated.

Nominated horses for the past two years have had to pay 3 percent of a race's purse in order to start; prior to that, it was 2 percent. For horses in the $4 million Classic, that's now $120,000 each. For a horse like Perfect Drift, who will be making his third consecutive start in the Classic, his owner, Dr. William A. Reed, has now paid $320,000 to run a fully nominated horse in the Breeders' Cup.

"We're now $320,000 in the hole, plus expenses," said Murray Johnson, who trains Perfect Drift. "It seems ridiculous to pay $500 early to nominate, and then if you're lucky to get one who can go for the big prize, it's an enormous amount of money. A couple of years ago, they raised the fees from 2 percent to 3 percent, but they didn't raise the purse of most of the races. The Classic should be a $5 million race."

Horses become eligible for the Breeders' Cup with a one-time payment of $500 as a foal, and if the owner of the horse's sire paid the equivalent of that year's stud fee, which makes all the sire's offspring eligible. If neither the sire nor the foal was nominated, the supplementary fee is 20 percent of the race purse; for the Classic, that would be $800,000. If the sire was nominated, but not the foal, the fee is 9 percent. Ouija Board, for example, was supplemented to this year's $1 million Filly and Mare Turf with a payment of $90,000.

New twist to head-to-head wagers

Officials are introducing a new wrinkle to the head-to-head wagers it will offer on every Breeders' Cup race Saturday: a third horse will be part of the wager in two of the eight races, essentially making them head-to-head-to-head wagers. To win the wager, a bettor's horse must finish ahead of the other two.

In the Juvenile Fillies, the three subject horses are Culinary, In the Gold, and Sharp Lisa. In the Filly and Mare Turf, the three horses are Film Maker, Megahertz, and Yesterday.

Mutuel takeout on head-to-head wagers is just 10 percent.

"We wanted to gauge the public's reaction to a new element," said Ken Kirchner, senior vice president of product development for the Breeders' Cup. "It's a new twist."

The head-to-head wager was first offered at the Breeders' Cup in 2002 at Arlington Park. Handle per race has averaged roughly $80,000 the first two years, said Kirchner.

Lone Star makes good impression

Most of the trainers in the Breeders' Cup have never been to Lone Star. Allen Jerkens, in fact, had never been to the state of Texas before this week. But the track is making a good impression on the nationally prominent trainers.

"It's a pleasant surprise," said Dale Romans, who has Kitten's Joy in the Turf and Roses in May in the Classic. "It's clean, well-maintained."

Racing for education

Five horses who compete for the Race for Education scholarship are in the Breeders' Cup. The owners of Bwana Charlie, Cajun Beat, Musical Chimes, Proud Accolade, and Super Brand have pledged a portion of their horse's earnings to the fund.

In just two years, the Race for Education has awarded more than $365,000 to college students around the country.

* Advance wagering on the Breeders' Cup will be available nationwide beginning on Friday.

* Each of the 11 races on the card Friday at Lone Star will be called by a different announcer as part of All-Star Announcers Day.

* A Breeders' Cup party will be held after the races Friday at Gilley's Dallas.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee, Jay Privman, and Mary Rampellini

B.C. head-to-head wagers

* DistaffAshado, Storm Flag Flying
* Juv. FilliesIn the Gold, Culinary, Sharp Lisa
* MileSix Perfections, Nothing to Lose
* SprintClock Stopper, Cajun Beat
* F & M TurfFilm Maker, Megahertz, Yesterday
* JuvenileSun King, Consolidator
* TurfPowerscourt, Kittens Joy
* ClassicBirdstone, Funny Cide