Updated on 09/17/2011 5:48PM

Birdstone stays on proven schedule


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - It worked for the Belmont Stakes. And it worked for the Travers Stakes. So with Birdstone preparing to compete in the richest race of his life, trainer Nick Zito was not about to change a thing for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic next Saturday at Lone Star Park.

As he did before the Belmont and Travers, Zito on Friday at Saratoga sent Birdstone out for his final workout some eight days in front of the race. With his regular exercise rider, Maxine Correa, aboard, Birdstone was timed in 1:16.95 on a track rated muddy. He worked in company with stablemate Seek Gold. Track clockers reported that Birdstone started well behind Seek Gold and then finished in front.

Birdstone, a small, compact colt, needs plenty of time between both his races and his workouts. That is why he came into the Travers not having raced since the Belmont, and why he is coming into the Classic not having raced since the Travers. It is also why Zito gives Birdstone his final work more than a week in front of the race. Zito also believes Birdstone does his best at Saratoga, which is why he has trained there for the past five months.

"It's the best place to train a horse," Zito said Friday. "I didn't want to change a thing. I didn't want to be second-guessing myself."

Zito did not attend the work, because he is overseeing a large stable of runners at Keeneland. But he has great confidence in Correa. Zito also had an associate videotape the work digitally, then send it to Zito on a computer so he could watch it moments later.

"I'm happy. Little Man worked well," Zito said, referring to Birdstone. "It worked out good. They're happy. I'm happy. You better have trust in people like that, because in this game, you're not going to able to do it by yourself."

If Birdstone wins the Classic, he could be both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old colt.

Birdstone was scheduled to fly to Texas on Saturday on a plane that Zito chartered from Albany, N.Y. Also scheduled on the flight were Juvenile runner Sun King, and Pies Prospect and Seek Gold, who are scheduled to run in supporting stakes at Lone Star next weekend.

Royal Regalia looks on the upswing

Justin Nixon, the 35-year-old trainer of Royal Regalia, believes the gelding is coming into the biggest race of both of their lives in top form. Royal Regalia is being pointed for the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Mile, and needs one defection to get into the field, which is likely.

Jorge Chavez, who rode Royal Regalia to a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Fourstardave at Saratoga in August, has the mount. The horse was flown to Texas from Kentucky on Tuesday, one day after vanning to the Bluegrass State from his training center base in Ontario, Canada.

"He traveled well," said Nixon, who trains Royal Regalia for Stronach Stables. "Nothing really shakes him up."

Royal Regalia has stepped up his game considerably over the summer. He set a course record for a mile at Woodbine in July, when he won a one-turn optional claiming turf race in 1:31.80. One start later, he was runner-up to Nothing to Lose in the Fourstardave, and he followed that race he with a third in the Grade 1 Atto Mile at Woodbine to Soaring Free, another Mile pre-entrant.

"He ran very well against Nothing to Lose and Silver Tree, who are both well thought of coming up to the Breeders' Cup, and he followed that race up with what I thought was a fantastic race in the Atto Mile," said Nixon. "He got beat three-parts of a length to a horse that right now is undefeated in Canada."

Nixon attributes Royal Regalia's improvement to racing experience. The 6-year-old gelding is a May foal and has made limited starts. He has raced just 13 times, winning 5 of those races and $278,772.

"He's just a very lightly raced horse that was given a lot of time as a young horse to mature and develop," said Nixon. "The Stronachs are adamant about patience, giving a horse time to mature.

"He's just gotten better with every start. Basically it's like last year was his 2-year-old year. He's just improved since he's gotten along and raced."

Royal Regalia is a big gray with a strong pedigree. He is a son of a Breeders' Cup Mile winner, Cozzene, and out of the same mare as Talkin Man, a winner of $677,967.

Royal Regalia was based at Fort Erie near Buffalo, N.Y., until the meet ended in September, and then he moved to the Adena Springs North training center in Ontario. He trained there for the Atto Mile, and because he ran so well in that race, his connections decided to do some of his Breeders' Cup prep work there, said Nixon. The horse is scheduled to work five-eighths of a mile on turf at Lone Star on Monday.

"I've been thrilled to death with each and every race from him," said Nixon.

Royal Regalia will be racing for the home team on Saturday, along with Ghostzapper. Both are owned by Frank Stronach, the chairman of Lone Star's parent company, Magna Entertainment.

Roses in May training in bar shoes

Roses in May, who has won all five of his starts this year and is preparing for the Classic, has been training with egg-shaped bar shoes on his rear hooves this week at Lone Star Park. Dale Romans, who trains Roses in May, said the shoes are preventative, and will not be worn on race day.

"He's had problems with his feet in the past, but he's actually been really sound this year," Romans said. "The bars are preventative. He's had them a while, but he doesn't race in them."

Van Clief was double-teamed

Corey Johnsen, the president of Lone Star Park, and Charles England, the mayor of Grand Prairie, both said they "stalked" Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief Jr. in an attempt to bring the Breeders' Cup to Lone Star.

"Corey kept saying, 'What do we have to do to bring the Breeders' Cup to Lone Star? ' " Van Clief said.

The persistence paid off.

"We've never had a Super Bowl or a World Series in Texas," England said. "We're the first to bring that to north Texas. The Breeders' Cup is the Super Bowl and the World Series."

"I can't tell you what a source of pride it is," said trainer Steve Asmussen, who was raised in Texas and is the winningest trainer in Lone Star history

Money is an object

The $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic offers more than $2 million to the winner, which makes the race significant even to someone who doesn't need the money.

The Classic "means a great deal," said Marylou Whitney, who bred and owns Birdstone with her husband, John Hendrickson. "It's a lot of money. It sure helps pay the feed bill."

Birdstone will be Whitney's first Breeders' Cup starter.

* With rain forecast for Sunday, some horses are moving their works up a day. At least that could be the case for Wonder Again, who now might have her final work for the Filly and Mare Turf on Saturday, said Emmanuel Davy, assistant to trainer Jimmy Toner. Temperatures during training hours were hot and humid on Friday.

- additional reporting by Mary Rampellini