10/31/2006 12:00AM

Time for Balletto to come up big

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ELMONT, N.Y. - It has been two years since Balletto has won a race, but it has not been that long since she ran a winning race.

That is why many people are giving Balletto a big chance to end her career on a winning note in Saturday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff.

"Maybe my biggest concern would be Balletto," Shug McGaughey, trainer of top Distaff contender Pine Island said this week. "All her races have been pretty good."

Balletto, who finished second in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, has run six times this year with four seconds, a third, and a fourth. Three starts back, she was beaten a nose by Spun Sugar in the Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap. Most recently, in the Grade 1 Beldame, Balletto came up a head short to Fleet Indian, the likely Distaff favorite.

"We were happy to see her come back and put those two races together," said Tom Albertrani, trainer of Balletto. "Hopefully, we'll get the right pace in the Breeders' Cup - it might make a difference."

For Balletto, it has been a case of what difference a year makes. At this time last year, Balletto was just about to return to training for Albertrani after missing her entire her 3-year-old season because of colic surgery.

As a 2-year-old, Balletto won the Grade 1 Frizette and ran second to the champion Sweet Catomine in the Juvenile Fillies at Lone Star Park. Her ownership was transferred from Darley to Godolphin during the winter, but she did not race in Dubai.

Balletto returned to the United States in April 2005 with several other Godolphin horses and colicked on April 27. She spent a week at the New Bolton Center equine clinic in Pennsylvania, where she underwent surgery.

"Luckily they didn't have to remove any intestine," Albertrani said. "They were able to massage the impaction."

Still, it was announced that Balletto had been retired. But having missed the breeding season of 2005, and after being given a clean bill of health by veterinarians who examined her at Jonabell Farm in Kentucky, the decision was made to return Balletto to training. In November, she was shipped to Albertrani's Payson Park barn in Florida.

Albertrani got Balletto back to the races on March 30 at Gulfstream Park, where she finished fourth of six in a third-level allowance race.

"To me it looked like she was going to maybe need the race, because I don't think she was training to the best of her ability at that time," Albertrani said. "She was not focusing on her work entirely, where as a 2-year-old she was training more aggressively."

While Albertrani targeted the pair of two-turn Grade 1 races at Saratoga for Balletto, he ran her in a pair of one-turn graded events at Belmont to get her ready. In the Shuvee, Balletto finished second to Take D' Tour and then finished a well-beaten third to that same rival in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps.

At Saratoga, however, Balletto began to return to form. In the Go for Wand, she looked like she was going to win in the stretch, but a stubborn Spun Sugar held her off by a nose. Because of an unfavorable pace scenario, the late-running Balletto had no chance against Fleet Indian in the Personal Ensign. Fleet Indian got loose on an uncontested lead and was able to set a ridiculously slow pace in beating Balletto by 4 1/2 lengths.

"The Personal Ensign was the race I pointed at maybe having her at her best," Albertrani said.

Torn between running in the Spinster or the Beldame, Albertrani chose the Beldame because there seemed to be ample pace in the race. Balletto again put in a terrific performance, but fell just a head short to Fleet Indian. Balletto's hesitation to change leads in the stretch may have cost her the win.

"She's always been a little bit reluctant to change to her right lead, and she's been that way since she was a 2-year-old," Albertrani said. "If you're looking to fault her in any way, it's that split second where there's that hesitation of changing her lead where she loses that half-length or so."

Albertrani notes that Balletto seems to peak in the fall of the year when the weather gets cooler. Since the Beldame, he has been impressed with the filly's training, including a five-furlong move in 1:02.24 Tuesday morning at Belmont Park.

"Some horses peak at different times of the year, and I think the fall is the time for her to be at her best," Albertrani said. "Right now she appears to be doing better than she ever has the whole year."