02/02/2008 1:00AM

Barrier Reef raises his stock


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Barrier Reef bounced back from a disappointing effort in last month's Count Fleet and may have put himself on the Triple Crown trail with a determined half-length victory over Roman Emperor in Saturday's $109,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct.

Texas Wildcatter finished third. Cave Valley, the 2-1 favorite, was sixth of seven.

The victory was the second from four starts for Barrier Reef, a son of Mizzen Mast owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable and trained by Tom Albertrani. It also was a marked improvement from the Count Fleet Stakes, in which Barrier Reef finished fourth, eight lengths behind Giant Moon.

Albertrani said Barrier Reef came out of the Count Fleet a tired horse, but that he had been sharp in his recent training. Barrier Reef needed to be sharp in the Whirlaway to win a quarter-mile stretch battle with Roman Emperor.

Under Alan Garcia, Barrier Reef raced in fifth position while four wide down the backstretch as Sonic Boom set leisurely fractions of 23.62 seconds and 48.02 while being stalked by Roman Emperor. Entering the far turn, Roman Emperor forged to the lead outside Sonic Boom while Barrier Reef made a three-wide move after him. Barrier Reef and Roman Emperor were on equal terms approaching the quarter pole. The two fought on through the stretch and despite not changing leads, Barrier Reef prevailed late.

Barrier Reef ($12.80) covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.47 over a track labeled good.

Albertrani was happy to see Barrier Reef fight when confronted with a challenge.

"I'm glad to see him battle on like that, Roman Emperor put in a great effort, he was determined not to lose himself, but our horse had a little something left,'' said Albertrani, who added that Barrier Reef would be pointed to the Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham here on March 8.

Jeremy Rose, the jockey of Roman Emperor said his horse had no excuse.

"He did everything he could do to win today, the horse outside of him just ran a little bit better,'' Rose said.

Michael Trombetta, the trainer of Cave's Valley, said he was shocked to see his horse last down the backside and was not sure what went awry.

* Runway Rosie ($3.50) took command turning for home under Rajiv Maragh and rolled to a 4 1/4-length victory in the $65,950 Ride Sally Stakes for 4-year-old fillies.