Updated on 09/15/2011 1:17PM

Classic: Albert preps for Great test


ELMONT, N.Y. - All year long trainer Nick Zito has been looking forward to the arrival of the World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park for one rather important reason: Home field advantage.

A smile would fill his face as he pondered the edge that comes from having a race like the $4 Breeders' Cup Classic contested on a track that his top handicap horse, Albert the Great, absolutely loves.

So now, with the Classic less than a week away, why isn't Nick Zito smiling like a cheshire cat?

Albert the Great turned in his final major work for Saturday's Classic by breezing five furlongs in 1:02.80 under jockey Jorge Chavez, who will ride Albert in the 1 1/4-mile Grade 1 event.

By design the work was comparatively slow, underscoring a fear that has been tugging at Zito.

Albert the Great comes into the Classic off an uncharacteristic 19 3/4-length whipping at the hands of fellow Classic candidate Aptitude in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at none other than Belmont Park.

The Gold Cup was Albert's eighth race in a 2001 campaign that kicked off in February, and Zito will not rule out the possibility that long campaign has caught up with his 4-year-old son of Go for Gin.

But with the clocking ticking down to the most important race of the year, Zito is putting the bulk of his stock in the belief that the Gold Cup was just a bad day.

"We stuck with the plan for today's work," Zito said. "He looked good in the lane and had good action."

As for Albert's fourth-place finish in the Gold Cup, Zito had no trouble rattling off possible excuses for his horse's first off-the-board finish in nine races at Belmont Park.

"I learned that there's only one way to win and a thousand ways to lose," Zito said. "I thought he ran a good race when he was second in the Woodward, which was a tough race. Tiznow came out of it and he didn't run well in the Goodwood, so maybe Albert bounced after a tough race.

"Is it a long year for him? I hope it's a long year after Saturday because he'll have plenty of time to rest after this one. All year long, this was the race we were pointing for, but now you have to wonder if his poor race in the Gold Cup was because of those tough races during the year when he was carrying a lot of weight.

"All I know is that Albert normally fights to the wire, so I can only attribute the Gold Cup to being one of those bad days and just throw it out. I hope he'll bounce back Saturday because I'd love to see him go out a winner."

Chavez, who did not ride Albert the Great in the Gold Cup, said that's a distinct possibility.

"He worked good and finished well. I think he's ready," Chavez said. "I think we're going to get it this time. We're going to win."

Quiet day for Tiznow

Reigning Horse of the Year Tiznow was on his best behavior Monday, one day after tossing a couple of minor temper tantrums while walking around the track.

Trainer Jay Robbins said he tried a new tactic in getting Tiznow to settle down and the result was a smooth and uneventful 1 1/8-mile gallop. This time, Robbins instructed exercise rider Ramon Arciga to let Tiznow decide when it was time to get serious.

"He was very good this morning," Robbins said. "He was fractious the other day. I believe the difference was that we let him spend as much time as he wanted before he started galloping. We let him decide when he was ready. It looks like he wants to see what he can get away with . . . He's learned how to push our buttons. He does what he wants, when he wants."

Buoyed by Monday's mild manner performance, Robbins is hopeful of bringing a much less headstrong horse up to the $4 million Classic.

"I think he may be OK now," Robbins said. "This was as good a day as we've seen in a long while. I'd like to be cautiously optimistic that we'll have another good day with him tomorrow."

Tune in tomorrow and find out.

Aptitude on edge for Classic

Aptitude, the probable favorite in the Classic, galloped yesterday as trainer Bobby Frankel proclaimed his 4-year-old colt to be "100 percent" ready for the Classic.

"I feel very comfortable with the way he's coming into the race," Frankel said. "He's sounder than ever."

Aptitude cruised to a 10-length victory in Belmont's Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at the Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles. Add in a four-length victory in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup before that and a victory via disqualification three races ago in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup and Frankel knows more than purse money is at stake in the Classic.

"If Aptitude wins the Classic, he's Horse of the Year," Frankel said. "Starting with the Saratoga race, he's been a different horse."

One knock against Aptitude might be his trainer's 0-for-36 goose egg in the Breeders' Cup, but Frankel says the word "jinx" will not pass through his lips - unless he goes 0-for-6 in this year's World Championships with a lineup that includes Aptitude plus You in the Juvenile Fillies and Flute in the day's fist race, the Distaff.

"Of those 36 horses, only one was a favorite," Frankel said. "This is my best chance to win a race and if I don't win one this year, then I'll say it's a jinx. I think if I win the first race (the Distaff), I'll have a big day, but I'll be happy with just one. . . Look at John Elway. They said he couldn't win the big game and then he won two Super Bowls."

Gander blazes five furlongs in 59.40

The best work of the day by a Classic candidate was put in by the venerable New York State-bred Gander, who zipped five furlongs in 59.40 seconds.

A 5-year-old, Gander claimed his first graded stakes win in his 38th and most recent start when he won the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup on Sept. 28.

Earlier this year, Gander was third in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, finishing only a neck behind second-place finisher Albert the Great.

Gander was ninth in last year's Classic, losing by 13 lengths to Tiznow.

Position draw crucial in Classic

The post position draw for the Classic is less than 48 hours away and several trainers are hunting for good luck charms to avoid being mired on the outside in the expected 14-horse field.

Since 1 1/4 mile races start on the clubhouse turn at Belmont, speed horses breaking from an outside post can lose significant ground while chasing after the early lead.

Unbridled won the first Classic held at Belmont Park (1990) despite breaking from post 14, but he was a closer who broke slowly and then immediately cut inside.

Cigar, who won the 1995 Classic at Belmont, broke from post three en route to a 2 1/2-length victory.

Though Aptitude was a stone cold closer last year, he has raced much closer to the lead in his most recent races and Frankel wants no part of an outside post.

"The post position draw matters most in the Classic and Sprint," Frankel said. "I don't want to be outside in the Classic. Aptitude has been racing better since he started tracking the speed, so I don't want to be in a position where he has to be last early on like Unbridled was."

Zito, who said his game plan is to have Albert the Great on the lead in the Classic, also said the posts closest to the rail in the Classic were the prime real estate.

"It's very important to be inside in the Classic," Zito said. "When they pick the posts I want one of those great New York Yankee numbers like Jeter (2), Ruth (3), Gehrig (4). Whether we make it or not, we going to the front, so we don't want to lose all that ground."

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