05/02/2011 2:18PM

Kentucky Derby: Brilliant Speed a joint plan B

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Separately, owner Charlotte Weber and trainer Tom Albertrani had Kentucky Derby aspirations this spring, but not with the horse who ultimately the two will bring to the race on Saturday.

Weber, whose horses run under the banner of Live Oak Plantation, was hoping to be here with To Honor and Serve, one of the better 2-year-olds of 2010, who finished third in both the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby at 3 for trainer Bill Mott before emerging from the Florida Derby with a stress fracture. Albertrani thought he might have his Derby horse in Arthur’s Tale, who was beaten just a head by Toby’s Corner in the April 9 Wood Memorial while finishing in front of the early Derby favorite Uncle Mo. Four days after the Wood, Arthur’s Tale, owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley Stable, was also declared out of the Derby with a stress fracture of his own. Both To Honor and Serve and Arthurs’s Tale are not expected back before the summer.

The disappointment both Weber and Albertrani felt losing those horses was alleviated on April 16 when Brilliant Speed rallied from last to win the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in his first foray into graded stakes competition.

“It has been like a roller coaster, but what a wonderful ride,” said Weber, 68, whose stable finished second in the 1982 Derby with Laser Light and 10th in 2005 with High Fly.

Noting that Brilliant Speed’s best races have come on turf and synthetic surfaces, Albertrani said, “I wouldn’t have thought I’d be here with this horse.”

Even though Brilliant Speed was beaten 40 lengths in his only two starts on dirt last year, Albertrani is thinking he has a chance to win a seemingly wide-open Derby with Brilliant Speed, a son of Dynaformer, who sired 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, who also had success on turf.

Brilliant Speed raced on dirt in his first two starts as a 2-year-old. In a five-furlong maiden race at Belmont, he was beaten 19 lengths by Boys At Tosconova, who won the race by 12. In his second start, last Aug. 21, Brilliant Speed was beaten 21 lengths in a seven-furlong maiden race whose second- and third-place finishers, Joe Vann and Mucho Macho Man, won the Illinois Derby and Risen Star Stakes, respectively.

It was after those two dirt races that Albertrani decided to try Brilliant Speed on the turf. He finished third in a pair of maiden races at Belmont in the fall. Following another little break, Brilliant Speed won a maiden turf race at Tampa on Dec. 26. He then was beaten a nose in the Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream and a neck when he finished third in the Hallandale Beach, also on the Gulfstream turf.

“I thought he should have won both of those races,” said Albertrani, noting that in the Dania Beach jockey John Velazquez “had a lot of traffic, could not get him out. It looked like he was much the best in that race. And then King Congie,” also trained by Albertrani, “came over on him in the next race.”

As a former assistant to Mott as well as a trainer for the powerful Dubai-based Godolphin Racing operation, Albertrani has been around many top turf horses, some of whom were tried on the dirt with mixed results. Paradise Creek, a multiple Grade 1 turf horse whom Albertrani galloped for Mott, was beaten nine lengths in his only dirt start. Sakhee, a Godolphin-owned multiple Group 1 winner on turf, was beaten a nose by Tiznow in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park.

“Good turf horses could always breeze good on the dirt, but they’re not going to run as well, because when they try harder they just don’t get a hold of it,” said Albertrani, 43, whose only other Derby starter was Deputy Glitters, eighth in 2006. “They have to get a hold of the track. If this horse gets a hold of the track that might be the difference. It could be the whole key.”

On Monday, Brilliant Speed breezed a solid five furlongs in 1:00.98 over a sloppy Churchill main track. Albertrani would have preferred to breeze over a fast track, but those have been few and far between in Louisville this week.

“He looked like he went pretty good over it,” Albertrani said. “Pedigree says he’s bred to go in mud. It’s nice to have a horse like this to bring up to the Derby. I feel optimistic about it. He’s got the pedigree to go a mile and a quarter – that would be his biggest strength.”