07/29/2001 12:00AM

No more weighty issues for 'Albert'


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Nick Zito is glad that he's finished with these weighty issues for Albert The Great.

Zito has three more races on his colt's 2001 agenda and not a single one of them has the word "handicap" in them.

On the morning after Albert The Great ran second behind Lido Palace in Saratoga's Whitney Handicap, Zito remained as convinced as ever that the nine pounds "Albert" had to spot the winner was the key factor in Lido Palace's two-length victory.

"I feel it was the nine pounds that cost us," Zito said on Sunday morning. "He also got taken wide by Gander (who finished third) on the first turn and we couldn't get by (the pacesetting) Elite Mercedes as easily as we thought. But that was the weight. If Elite Mercedes was carrying 124 pounds like us instead of 112, would he still have gone out for the lead like that? No way. He would have stopped on a dime. Gander had 113 pounds. Would he have been out there with 124? It would have been different with equal weights. Still I am happy with the heart and courage he showed."

Lido Palace and Albert The Great will probably meet again in the $500,000 Woodward Stakes on Sept. 8 at Belmont Park, a weight-for-age stakes in which the two 4-year-olds colts will carry equal weight. After that, the plan for Albert The Great would be to run in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 6 and then the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at the Thoroughbred World Championships on Oct. 27. The last two races are weight-for-age events at Belmont Park, the same track where "Albert" has won four stakes, including last year's Gold Cup and this year's Suburban and Brooklyn.

Digest all that and you should understand why the chase for racing's biggest prize, Horse of the Year, is still within Albert The Great's grasp.

"Albert" may have a record of three wins and three seconds in six 2001 starts and be 3 0-3-0 in Grade 1 stakes. Point Given may head a talented class of 3-year-olds. Lido Palace as well as Include (Pimlico Special) and Captain Steve (Donn) each may own a victory over Albert The Great. But the way the table is set this fall - with three all-important weight-for-age races at Belmont Park - gives Albert The Great his best possible chance of earning a prime seat at the Horse of the Year awards dinner.

"To me, 'Albert' is still the leader in the handicap division," said Zito, who reported that the son of Go for Gin came out of the Whitney in fine shape. "He lost in three Grade 1's this year but in the Whitney he gave the winner nine pounds, we gave Include seven in the Pimlico Special and lost by a neck, and we had some trouble and were too far back against Captain Steve. (Albert The Great) been solid. The 3-year-olds look exceptionally good this year but the Breeders' Cup is a long way off and we'll see what happens."

A nice payday, but . . .

Albert The Great earned a $160,000 bonus for owner Tracy Farmer by finishing second in the Whitney and clinching the NTRA Champions series title.

Zito says he loves the money and television exposure of the series, but wouldn't mind if the rules were a little easier to understand.

The complicated rules structure awarded Albert The Great $100,000 for finishing first in the series. He then received $2,000 for each of the 30 points he registered in the series. Had he won the Whitney, he would have received $5,000 for each point. He would pocketed $1,000 for each point if he was third in the Whitney and not a penny in bonus points cash if he was fourth or worse.

Only horses who ran in the Whitney were eligible to cash in their bonus points.

"I don't know if I'm in favor of having to run in the Whitney to get the money," Zito said. "I think they should give out points like they do in the Breeders' Cup (a point system based on a horse's finish in graded stakes to determine starters in the Breeders' Cup races) and award the money."

Werner breaks maiden at the Spa

On a day that featured two Grade 1 stakes and the return from a year layoff of the 2000 Preakness winner, trainer Ronny Werner left Saratoga on Saturday with unforgettable memories about a maiden race.

In the third race of the day the Midwest-based trainer saddled his very first starter at Saratoga and promptly recorded his first victory at the historic Spa.

"It's good to get rid of the duck right away," Werner said.

Werner's trip to the winner's circle was engineered by the 2-year-old Thunder Day who scored by 2 1/4 lengths under Jorge Chavez after finishing second in his debut at Arlington Park.

"It felt fantastic," Werner said. "We were facing a nice bunch of horses but I felt good about our chances. Our horse gained some experience in his debut and showed more speed this time."

Werner, who has six horses at the Spa, plans to run Thunder Day back in the $150,000 Saratoga Special on Aug. 15. Werner also trains Lunar Bounty who might also run in the Special.