02/02/2009 12:00AM

Simply going where he belongs


Albertus Maximus is likely headed to the Dubai World Cup after his win in Saturday's Donn Handicap.P

NEW YORK - The usual hand-wringing that can be found in this space this time every year when the connections of a prominent member of the handicap division announce their intentions to go after the Dubai World Cup is owed to the fact that the significant majority of U.S.-based horses who have run in that specific race were never the same afterward. But this angst does not apply in the case of Albertus Maximus, who punched his ticket to Dubai with his game win in Saturday's Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

When Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum, a member of the ruling family of Dubai, purchased Albertus Maximus for his Shadwell Stable after a victory in last fall's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, it was plainly clear that this horse, if at all able, would be heading to the Middle East, even if it was for a start in the Godolphin Mile, if not the World Cup.

It was the same deal a couple of years ago with Sheikh Hamdan's horse Invasor. You knew, because of his ownership, that Invasor was going to Dubai after his Horse of the Year campaign here in 2006, even if it meant that as much as we needed a horse of his quality to race in this country to help support our sport, there was a very good chance we would never see him here again. Heck, given the owner's roots, there was no right to expect anything else. And after Invasor won the Dubai Cup, we never did see him again.

Albertus Maximus is no Invasor, but given the way he won the Donn, he showed that he is worthy of a shot at the Dubai Cup. Despite the fact that Albertus Maximus excelled on synthetic tracks in Southern California, it should not have come as a surprise that he handled dirt effectively Saturday. Nor should the positional speed he showed, which was a big asset with the way Gulfstream's main track played Saturday. Albertus Maximus showed he could handle dirt when he got his maiden win at Santa Anita before that track switched to a synthetic surface. And even though Albertus Maximus could be a deep closer in fast-paced routes, like he was in the Dirt Mile, he also showed he could be a prominent early factor in more moderately paced races.

This versatility, plus the determination he showed in the Donn, are qualities that could make Albertus Maximus an important player this year in what right now looks like a very shaky older male division. Who knows? That might still come to fruition even if everything goes according to schedule and Albertus Maximus competes in Dubai. After all, didn't Curlin go to Dubai last year, win a prep race and the Dubai Cup, and then return here and accomplish enough to be voted Horse of the Year for a second straight year?

Yes, he did. But let's also note that while Curlin's first win back here after Dubai in the Stephen Foster was up to the standard we had come to expect of him, his subsequent second in the Man o' War, his hard-fought decisions over questionable company in the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup, and his fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic were not quite of the same quality we had come to associate with Curlin. Indeed, a case could be made that the trip to Dubai definitely had an adverse effect on Curlin's subsequent form, and would have rendered a lesser horse completely ineffective. And right here, it's important to note that Albertus Maximus, as decent as he looks in context to what else is currently out there, is certainly no Curlin.

But at least we have dirt and turf threat Einstein, who, despite finishing 2 1/4 lengths behind Albertus Maximus when third in the Donn, might have run every bit as well. If you would like evidence of how much a severe disadvantage an extreme outside post going 1 1/8 miles on the main track at Gulfstream is, just catch a replay to watch Einstein and see how his chances were compromised.

The Donn was the first Grade 1 race of the year, and a little while later the Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita became the second. The Santa Monica served as a platform for a display of sheer class by Ventura.

With the same kind of devastating late kick Ventura used to humble Indian Blessing last fall in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, Ventura mastered stablemate Jibboom. Ventura, who is also a Grade 1 turf miler, has many options this year. While I know the older female division is extremely strong, I think Ventura is very capable of stretching out on the main track and being successful in some important spots. Jibboom, who ran very well finishing second in the Santa Monica, could be an able replacement in the races Ventura might otherwise target. But Bobby Frankel, who trains both, sure doesn't need my advice.

Albertus Maximus might have some U.S.-based company in Dubai in Kip Deville, who is being considered for the Dubai Duty Free after his game score in Sunday's Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. In this instance, the concern over Kip Deville going to Dubai is not based on what that trip might do to his subsequent form, because U.S.-based horses who compete there in races less demanding than the World Cup (whether it's because the race is on turf or run at a shorter distance) have a much better chance of replicating their best form after returning here. In this case, Kip Deville would hook a much stronger group of nine-furlong turf horses in Dubai than he did on Sunday. And the fact that he had to work so hard to prevail Sunday supports the belief that Kip Deville's best shot in top-level events remains in races run at or close to one mile.