07/31/2006 11:00PM

Sink or swim for Siphon City

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Siphon City, under Edgar Acosta, preps for the Whitney by working three furlongs in 35 seconds Tuesday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The scenario is an unlikely one for success. A former $75,000 claimer, whose trainer has never even started a horse at Saratoga, goes against the big boys in a prestigious Grade 1 race. But that will be the case here Saturday when Calder-based trainer Dan Hurtak brings his red-hot Siphon City up from south Florida to face division kingpins Invasor and Flower Alley in the $750,000 Whitney Handicap.

Siphon City has captured his last three starts, including the Grade 2 Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap at Prairie Meadows by six widening lengths. The 112 Beyer Speed Figure that Siphon City earned for the Cornhusker is the highest last-race Beyer of any of the seven expected starters in the Whitney, although Hurtak knows full well running that kind of number in Iowa and repeating it at Saratoga are two different things.

"I just felt he's at the top of his game right now, he's never going to be any better, so we might as well run against the best and see what we've got," Hurtak said by phone from Florida minutes after Siphon City worked an easy three furlongs in 35 seconds and galloped out a half-mile in 47.26 at Saratoga on Tuesday morning.

Siphon City's almost-too-good-to-be-true story began on Feb. 18, 2005, when Hurtak claimed the son of Siphon for owner Ray Larkin for $75,000 at Gulfstream Park. Siphon City won that day on the turf and subsequently captured two of his next 10 starts. But he had never even broken 90 on the Beyer scale until finishing second in a second-level allowance race at Gulfstream early this spring. Since then the 4-year-old has won an overnight stakes by eight lengths and the Grade 3 Memorial Day Handicap at Calder prior to his huge performance in the Cornhusker.

"He was a really nervous and mean horse when we first got him, but after a while he just began to relax, became more content, and has calmed down 1,000 percent," said Hurtak. "We still have to saddle him away from the other horses, but he's been getting better with that, and I don't think we'll have a problem on Saturday even with the big crowd."

Hurtak is well aware that Invasor and Flower Alley are the horses to beat in the Whitney, but he says it is Wanderin Boy he would rather not see in the starting lineup Saturday.

"My horse is at his best on the front end," said Hurtak. "I was hoping we might be able to get out to a big enough lead where he could hang on at the end even if he did get a little tired. But Wanderin Boy could really hurt us the most, because that puts a real classy speed horse on the lead with me. We'll have a lot better chance if he doesn't run."

As of Tuesday, the prospective starting lineup for the Whitney consisted of Invasor, Flower Alley, Siphon City, Wanderin Boy, Sun King, Survivalist, and Premium Tap.

Personal Ensign next for Balletto

Trainer Tom Albertrani had a very good weekend. It was almost a great one. Albertrani sent out Bernardini to dominate the Grade 1 Jim Dandy, got beat a nose by Spun Sugar with Balletto in the Grade 1 Go for Wand, and finished second on Monday with odds-on favorite Songster in the Grade 2 Amsterdam.

"It really would have been nice to see Balletto win, especially considering she had missed her whole 3-year-old season," said Albertrani. "I expected a better effort out of her in the Go for Wand just because of the way she was coming into the race compared to the Ogden Phipps. The two turns and pace scenario were also a big benefit. It was just too bad she lost the head bob."

Albertrani said Balletto will be pointed next for the Grade 1 Personal Ensign on Aug. 25.

Albertrani said that Bernardini came out of the Jim Dandy in good order.

"I thought his performance on Saturday was even more impressive than the Preakness," said Albertrani. "He's just a special horse."

Chapmans go for two graded stakes

When you think of a father-son trainer team potentially winning graded stakes on the same weekend at Saratoga, the first names that come to mind are Allen and Jimmy Jerkens. But this weekend it will be the Chapmans, Jim Sr. and Jim Jr., who will each send out a leading contender in a graded stakes.

On Friday, Jim Sr. will saddle Malibu Mint in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss. The following afternoon, Jim Jr. will attempt to win the Grade 1 Test with Misty Rosette.

Malibu Mint enters the six-furlong Honorable Miss off a career-best effort, a 3 3/4-length upset of Calder's Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap. She worked an easy three furlongs in 38.17 here Tuesday.

"Our main objective after the Princess Rooney was going to be the Ballerina here later this month, but she came out of her last race so good I thought we might as well bring her up here and get her over the track once," said the senior Chapman.

Misty Rosette is one of several top candidates in a well-matched field of 12 or 13 3-year-old fillies likely to start in the wide-open Test. A daughter of Stormin Fever, Misty Rosette won her first three career starts, including the Grade 3 Old Hat at Gulfstream in her 3-year-old debut, then was off four months prior to her fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Prioress at Belmont. She got back on a winning track last week in an overnight stakes at Monmouth Park.

"I stopped on her this winter to take a little flake out of her knee," said Jim Chapman Jr. "I knew I had enough time after that to get her back for the two Grade 1's, the Prioress and the Test, which was the plan all along. The race at Monmouth wasn't part of the plan, but it was a chance to get a little more black type on her record and she would have needed to work anyway."

The Chapmans are no strangers to Grade 1 success. They have managed the career of Caller One, a two-time winner of the prestigious Dubai Golden Shaheen, who has earned more than $2 million. Now 9, he finished fifth in Calder's two-furlong Rocket Man Stakes on July 22.

"He hates being on the farm," said Chapman Sr. "He's just happier at the track. The Rocket Man was really just a prep race for this Sunday, when he runs in a stakes going 4 1/2 furlongs at Mountaineer Park."

* Both the attendance and handle figures for the opening week of the meet show a decline from the corresponding dates in 2005. Average daily attendance was down 14 percent from 28,815 to 24,713. Ontrack handle was off 10 percent, while all-sources handle was down 2.6 percent from a year ago.