02/04/2008 1:00AM

Barrier Reef takes step toward joining Derby trail


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Barrier Reef was not among the 448 3-year-olds nominated to this year's Triple Crown series. As of the Jan. 19 nomination deadline, his connections felt Barrier Reef hadn't done enough to stamp himself as a candidate for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, or Belmont Stakes.

"I just didn't think he was going to be up to those standards,'' said Tom Albertrani, who trains Barrier Reef for Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable.

Last Saturday, however, Barrier Reef may have given his connections reason to reassess the situation. Rebounding from his fourth-place finish in the Count Fleet Stakes last month, Barrier Reef was a determined half-length winner of the $109,000 Whirlaway Stakes, outfinishing Roman Emperor in the Aqueduct stretch.

With another Triple Crown nominating deadline on March 29 - for a cost of $6,000 as opposed to $600 in January - Barrier Reef will have an additional opportunity to prove to his connections he's worthy of Triple Crown consideration when he runs back in the Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham on March 9. The race is at the same 1 1/16-mile distance as the Whirlaway and is a prep for the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 5.

"That was a nice step up from his last race,'' Albertrani said Monday morning. "We would have to come back and run the same type of race in the Gotham to make us consider any possibility of him being a Derby contender.''

Albertrani is only two years removed from campaigning the talented Bernardini, who at this time in his career was a once-beaten maiden. Bernardini won a maiden race in March and the Withers in April before taking the Preakness in his fourth career start.

"Bernardini was more of a naturally talented horse,'' Albertrani said. "You could see that even before he ran.''

Barrier Reef has run four times, winning twice. He encountered trouble when third in his debut, before taking the circuitous route to the winner's circle in his second start. He raced a bit flat in the Count Fleet, but trained better and ran to his training in the Whirlaway.

"If he trains as sharp as he did going into the last one there's no reason he couldn't come back and run another good race,'' Albertrani said.

Already waiting in the wings for Barrier Reef in the Gotham is Giant Moon, the undefeated New York-bred son of Giant's Causeway who won the Count Fleet and skipped the Whirlaway.

Richard Schosberg, the trainer of Giant Moon, said he was glad to see Barrier Reef and Roman Emperor run well in the Whirlaway because they finished third and fourth behind Giant Moon in the Count Fleet.

"Barrier Reef has found himself,'' Schosberg said. "I thought [Roman Emperor] was unbeatable. He looked incredible, he had the inside post. He ran gamely.''

Steve Klesaris, the trainer of Roman Emperor, said after the Whirlaway that he would likely run back in the Gotham.

Love Co shows marked improvement

Love Co made the jump from maiden win to stakes company in style Sunday afternoon, going gate to wire under Ramon Dominguez to win the $68,500 Glory in Motion Stakes by 12 3/4 lengths.

Love Co was in control throughout and covered the mile and 70 yards in 1:42.43 while in hand at the finish. She earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 81.

"She had been training that good,'' trainer Gary Contessa said. "I didn't want to say it out loud because I truly believe in jinxing myself.''

Contessa also finished third in the race with Deities Day, who finished a half-length behind Philly Gal.

Contessa will consider running Love Co, a New York-bred daughter of Not for Love, back in the $75,000 Busher Stakes on Feb. 24.

Contessa said that Paint Me Red, who won the Busanda Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on Jan. 13, is sidelined with a foot abscess.

Sherine points to Dearly Precious

Sherine, another talented New York-bred 3-year-old filly, will return to sprinting for the immediate future and will likely make her seasonal debut in the $75,000 Dearly Precious Stakes on Feb. 17.

Sherine, a daughter of Precise End, has not run since winning the East View Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Dec. 2. She was given a brief freshening by trainer Tony Dutrow following that race, but has resumed training and worked five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.53 on Sunday morning at Aqueduct.

Dutrow said the plan is the Dearly Precious and then possibly the Grade 3, $100,000 Cicada here on March 15. Both races are at six furlongs.

"We're hoping to stretch her out again in the future, but the Cicada is a graded race so we'll keep sprinting for now and hope she's good enough to run with her peers,'' Dutrow said. "We think it makes sense to go from the Dearly Precious to the Cicada.''

* Evening Attire, runner-up to Angliana in the Aqueduct Handicap in his 10-year-old debut, worked four furlongs in 50.01 seconds Monday morning over Belmont Park's training track. He could make his next start in the $75,000 Stymie Handicap here on March 1.

* Bustin Stones, who made a smashing return to the races winning a restricted stakes race on Jan. 21, worked five furlongs in 1:02.70 Monday at Belmont. Uneaten in four starts, the New York-bred Bustin Stones is being pointed to the $300,000 General George Handicap at Laurel Park on Feb. 18.

* Throng, another New York-based horse aiming at the General George, worked four furlongs in 48.67 seconds here on Monday.