08/18/2008 11:00PM

Mambo in Seattle refuses to lose

Barbara D. Livingston
Both jockey Robby Albarado and trainer Neil Howard have the utmost confidence in their Travers contender, Mambo in Seattle.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - On a dreary Tuesday morning in which raindrops eventually gave way to fall-like temperatures, a bleary-eyed Robby Albarado dragged himself out of bed and made his way to trainer Neil Howard's Saratoga barn.

Albarado was there before 6 a.m. to put Mambo in Seattle through his final workout for Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes. The strapping bay colt gave Albarado an energy boost when he worked a solid half-mile in 48.01 seconds in which he got his final quarter-mile in a sharp 23.51 over a "good" main track that had puddles on it. Mambo in Seattle continued on in his work, galloping out five furlongs in 1:00.36 and pulling up six furlongs in 1:14.29.

"He was very within himself; easy enough, but at the same time he got something out of the work," Albarado said later. "Galloped out awfully nice. I had to ease him up because he wanted to do a little bit more than that.''

Albarado hopes Mambo in Seattle wants to do a little bit more on Saturday than Grasshopper did in last year's Travers. Albarado was aboard Grasshopper, who ran an exceptionally strong race only to fall a half-length short of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and Calvin Borel.

"Calvin said on ESPN he thought he had me anytime, but I beg to differ with that because he was riding way before I was," Albarado recalled. "I could hear him slapping and chirping way before I was. I knew it was a great stretch duel, though. I think if I get in that same stretch duel this year, Mambo's a fighter; he'll come back and beat a horse."

Mambo in Seattle did exactly that in the Henry Walton Stakes here on July 27. The race was run the same day as the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, but the Walton was restricted to non-graded stakes winners in 2008. In that race, You and I Forever ran right up to Mambo in Seattle in midstretch and even put a head in front. But Mambo in Seattle battled back along the inside to prevail by a neck. During the gallop out, he never let You and I Forever go by. The final time of the Walton was 1:50.98, slightly faster than Macho Again's winning time in the Jim Dandy (1:51.16).

"He got passed late in the race and still come back and gutted it out and won it," Albarado said. "A couple more feet and he might have won it a little easier. He's a stayer; he's got a little turn of foot but he stays. For a horse that's lightly raced like him, I thought it was pretty impressive."

Mambo in Seattle was certainly bred by owner Will Farish to be a runner. He is by Kingmambo out of Weekend in Seattle, who is a full sister to 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy and a half-sister to 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall.

Mambo in Seattle has a similar history to Grasshopper. Both won one-mile maiden races in their second starts before sustaining an injury that knocked them off the Triple Crown trail. Mambo in Seattle had a chip in an ankle that kept him out of the spring classics. His second start back off the layoff came in the race immediately following the Kentucky Derby, in which he finished second while racing erratically through the stretch.

Since then, Mambo in Seattle has reeled off three consecutive victories. Howard thought Mambo in Seattle's best race was his second-level allowance win on June 14 at Churchill Downs, a race in which he had a wide trip under Corey Lanerie.

"At that point I told [Will Farish] I thought that maybe if things kept going in the right direction we might be going somewhere," Howard said.

"I like the steps he's taken his last three starts," said Albarado, who has ridden Mambo in Seattle in three of his last four races. "He's made dramatic leaps to where we expected he would hopefully get to."

A year ago, Grasshopper entered the Travers off a strong allowance win over the track. While he was certainly tackling a tough opponent in Street Sense, Howard said he thought at the quarter pole he had a chance to pull the upset. He had mixed feelings when Street Sense went by him.

"When they hit the wire I said 'Aawww,' " Howard said. "But as hard as it is to get those quality horses, when they run like that, you're happy. Sure, winning the Travers, who doesn't dream about winning it?"

And now, in a Travers that looks to be extremely wide open, Howard gets a second chance.

"How often does that happen?" Howard said. "He's always trained very forwardly, very straightforward, so I'm excited."

For Albarado, the Travers is one of two excellent chances to leave Saratoga with a Grade 1 victory this summer. On Aug. 30, Albarado will climb aboard reigning Horse of the Year Curlin in the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward Stakes. Curlin will be returning to his preferred dirt surface after finishing second in the Man o' War on turf at Belmont Park.

"I didn't really throw it out, but I just preferred his dirt races a lot more so I've always hoped they'd go back on the dirt with him," said Albarado, who has two graded stakes victories at this meet. "He's brilliant every single time he runs."