08/20/2004 11:00PM

Birdstone all set for Travers, Zito says


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - He's ready.

That's what trainer Nick Zito said after Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone drilled six furlongs Saturday morning in 1:13.96 over the Oklahoma training track in preparation for next Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes.

The Travers will be Birdstone's first start since upending the Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones in the Belmont on June 5. Saturday marked his fifth published work since the Belmont, though Zito said there was another work in early July that was not recorded.

Though showers fell Saturday morning, Zito felt he needed to get the work in, and he asked track superintendent Jerry Porcelli to harrow what had been a sealed training track after the renovation break. The training track was labeled good for the post-harrow workouts.

Saturday's work developed into a bit of a race. Birdstone began his breeze at the five-furlong pole and was about seven lengths behind stablemate Discover the Glory. Birdstone, under exercise rider Maxine Correa, gradually cut into his stablemate's lead entering the far turn. At the three-furlong marker, a horse trained by Joe Aquilino broke off for a work, about half a furlong in front of the Zito duo.

After working three furlongs in 35.48 seconds, Birdstone pinned his ears and set sail for the Aquilino horse in the stretch. After completing his workout, Birdstone continued to gallop out strongly, and he passed the Aquilino horse by the middle of the clubhouse turn.

"The great thing about Birdstone is when he saw that horse he kept going," Zito said.

Because Birdstone is a slightly built horse, Zito believed his best chance of winning the Travers was to train him up to the race following the Belmont. Zito felt that he could not run Birdstone in either the Jim Dandy or Haskell - both run Aug. 8 - because there were only 20 days between races.

"Sometimes you're dealt certain cards and you're better off keeping them than throwing them in, and it works out in your favor," Zito said. "In this case, had we run Birdstone somewhere, it might not have been as good as it turns out now. Right now, he couldn't be doing any better."

Zito, who will have Edgar Prado ride Birdstone, is taking three shots at winning his first Travers. He will also run Blue Grass winner The Cliff's Edge (Shane Sellers up) and West Virginia Derby winner Sir Shackleton (Rafael Bejarano).

The other four horses pointing to the Travers, with jockeys, are Lion Heart (Joe Bravo), Purge (John Velazquez), Suave (Pat Day), and Eddington (Richard Migliore).

Saturday at Churchill Downs, Suave worked six furlongs in 1:18.80 over a muddy track.

"It was just a little something to keep him fit," trainer Paul McGee said from Kentucky. "He came out of it real good. We feel like we're all set."

In his last two races, Suave won the Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill Downs and finished second in the Swaps. Suave will ship here Wednesday.

No Azeri-Sightseek rematch for now

Trainer Bobby Frankel said Sightseek, who was defeated by Azeri in the Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap on July 31, would not face Azeri again in Friday's Grade 1, $400,000 Personal Ensign Handicap.

Racing secretary Mike Lakow assigned both mares 122 pounds for the Personal Ensign. In the Go for Wand, Sightseek carried 122 pounds, two more than Azeri.

"I'm not running," Frankel said. "It's just a combination of things. [Lakow] said I wouldn't have beaten her at equal weights, so why isn't he giving me weight?"

Frankel added, "[Weight] is not that much the issue - I'd just rather wait until Belmont."

Sightseek is undefeated at Belmont. She will be pointed to the Grade 1 Ruffian on Sept. 18 and then the Grade 1, $750,000 Beldame on Oct. 9.

Azeri will face four or five rivals in the 10-furlong Personal Ensign. Storm Flag Flying, third in the Go for Wand, will carry 116 pounds, as will Delaware Handicap winner Summer Wind Dancer. Board Elligible (112) and Nevermore (110) are considered definite starters. Roar Emotion (115) is possible.

Carroll sending two in Albany

Trainer Del Carroll II will run the entry of Coined for Success and Fiddlers Cat in Wednesday's $150,000 Albany. The 1 1/8-mile Albany is the third leg of OTBs' Big Apple Triple for 3-year-old New York-breds. Multiplication, who won the first leg in the Mike Lee in June, died from an apparent heart attack while preparing for the second leg, the New York Derby. Don Corleone, the winner of the New York Derby at Finger Lakes, is expected to run in the Albany.

Coined for Success is the more accomplished of Carroll's runners. After winning the off-the-turf Nick Shuk Memorial at Delaware Park on June 6, he ran back 20 days later and was badly beaten in the seven-furlong Mike Lee. He followed with a fourth in the New York Derby.

Carroll, who trains Coined for Success and Fiddlers Cat for Stephen Peskoff, said he hadn't originally planned on running in the Mike Lee, but plans changed because of the $250,000 bonus available to the owner of the horse who could sweep the series.

"We had planned on going straight from the New York Derby to the Albany, but my owner was tempted by the bonus," Carroll said. "Coined for Success brought his game to Finger Lakes, but the Mike Lee might have took a bit out of him."

Javier Castellano will ride Coined for Success. Shane Sellers has the mount on Fiddlers Cat, whom Peskoff privately purchased after he won a maiden race on July 9.

A large field is expected for the Albany, including stakes winners West Virginia and Chowder's First.

Handfield, longtime pony rider, dies

Frank Handfield, who worked as a pony rider for the New York Racing Association for more than 40 years, died Friday after a long illness. He was 76. Handfield handled such luminary Thoroughbreds as Secretariat, Spectacular Bid, Hoist the Flag, and Buckpasser. He is survived by his son, Gary, who works in the racing office at NYRA, and daughters Susan Johnson and Judith Trigg.

A viewing will be held Monday from 7-9 p.m. at the New Baker Funeral Home in Blairstown, N.J. A funeral will be held Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Blairstown

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson