01/31/2009 12:00AM

Surface a concern for Donn favorites

Barbara D. Livingston
Albertus Maximus was purchased privately and turned over to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin shortly after his 1 1/4-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Albertus Maximus won the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, run over the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita, and has had the majority of his success over synthetic surfaces. The versatile Einstein is a two-time Grade 1 winner on the Gulfstream Park turf, but his trainer believes he's not as fond of the Gulfstream main track. Those factors could make Albertus Maximus and Einstein, the likely favorites, vulnerable when they take on eight rivals in Saturday's Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

The 1 1/8-mile Donn will share top billing on Saturday's card with the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes, the first major test around two turns for 3-year-olds here this winter.

The $500,000 purse for the Donn includes $100,000 from the Breeders' Cup Fund. Einstein and On Board Again are not eligible for the Breeders' Cup money.

Albertus Maximus was purchased privately by Shadwell Stable and turned over to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin shortly after his 1 1/4-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. The victory capped a campaign that also saw the son of Albert the Great finish third for trainer Vladimir Cerin in the Grade 1 Goodwood, also at Santa Anita.

McLaughlin said Albertus Maximus is training up a storm over the dirt track at Palm Meadows but that he remains a bit wary of the switch back to racing on dirt.

"He's doing great and training fabulous on the dirt, but naturally I have to be a little worried since all his success has come on synthetics," McLaughlin said. "But he's bred for dirt and he didn't run well in his one start on turf, so I'm hoping he's going to turn out to be a synthetic/dirt horse."

Although Albertus Maximus has yet to win beyond 1 1/16 miles, McLaughlin is not concerned about stretching him to nine furlongs for the Donn off his victory in the Dirt Mile.

"I'm confident he'll handle the distance," McLaughlin said.

Albertus Maximus will carry 120 pounds, including Alan Garcia.

Einstein, the highweight under 122 pounds, is a two-time winner of the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf, but his connections opted to pass a chance for a three-peat on Sunday to take another shot at the Donn. Einstein finished sixth following a wide trip in this race last winter. The 7-year-old son of Spend a Buck has posted two wins on dirt, including the Grade 2 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in his 2008 finale.

"He'll run on dirt, it's just that I don't think he likes this main track as much as he does the one at Churchill Downs," trainer Helen Pitts said. "He just skips over that track. This surface is a little deeper and not his favorite. If this race was at Churchill Downs, I'd be extremely confident."

Einstein will break on the outside in post 10, under jockey Julien Leparoux.

Arson Squad, on the other hand, seems to be thriving over the local strip, according to trainer Rick Dutrow.

"I think he really likes the tighter track here better than Aqueduct," Dutrow said. "He's very happy right now. I've never seen him like this."

Arson Squad finished fourth, beaten a length, following an unlucky trip in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile when forced to alter course while rallying after Wanderin Boy broke down on the final turn.

"I think he would have won if he could have kept a straight course," Dutrow said.

Like Albertus Maximus, Great Hunter has been racing almost exclusively over synthetic surfaces and remains winless since capturing the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in March 2007. Trained by Doug O'Neill, Great Hunter has made just one start since finishing fifth in the Dubai World Cup last March, rallying to be third under allowance conditions at Hollywood Park on Dec. 20.

A. P. Arrow, who finished just ahead of Great Hunter when fourth in the World Cup, subsequently finished off the board in four consecutive Grade 1 races. His last victory also came in 2007 in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap. The Donn will mark his first start under the tutelage of Ken McPeek.

Completing the lineup are Finallymadeit, pacesetter in last week's Sunshine Millions Classic; Pennsylvania Derby winner Anak Nakal; Hal's Hope runner-up Bullsbay; and 2008 Gulfstream Park Handicap winner Sir Whimsey.