07/29/2001 11:00PM

Weight was no factor in Albert's defeat


NEW YORK - Thoughts about recent happenings in the greatest game played outdoors:

The weight. That's all you heard about from Albert the Great's corner after he was upset by Lido Palace in Saturday's Whitney Handicap.

Let's put this issue in perspective. Albert the Great conceded eight pounds to Lido Palace on July 1 in the Suburban Handicap and beat him by a decisive 2 1/4 lengths. In the Whitney, Albert the Great had to concede one additional pound to Lido Palace.

Now, one pound for a horse who weighs 1,200 pounds is the equivalent of less than two-tenths of a pound for a human who weighs 180 pounds. Knowing that the one extra pound Albert the Great had to carry Saturday equates to a human having to "shoulder" a disposable pen, does it really make sense that the weight had anything at all to do with a 4 1/4-length reversal of form in the Whitney? Of course it doesn't.

There was some talk about how the Whitney proved Albert the Great's vulnerability away from Belmont Park. Albert the Great is 6 for 7 there, a fact that should not be underestimated, since Belmont is the site of this fall's Breeders' Cup. But it doesn't mean Albert the Great is a bum everywhere else. In his first start in blinkers, Albert the Great won a maiden race by 10 at Keeneland. He won the Widener by nearly six lengths in his only start at Hialeah. It took a great ride by Jerry Bailey on Include for him to be nailed in the last jump in the Pimlico Special. At Saratoga last year, Albert the Great would have won the Travers instead of being beaten a head had he not run the last eighth of a mile on a decidedly dead rail.

When it comes to explaining why Albert the Great lost the Whitney at 4-5, there are other, far more tangible reasons: He was farther off the early pace than where he is most effective. He did not save an inch of ground; being three to four wide on the first turn was particularly costly. When Lido Palace was second in the Suburban, he ran a good portion of that race toward the inside, a place a lot of jockeys avoided that day. And, most importantly, Albert the Great was beaten by an improving horse, ridden by Bailey, who is riding predictably well now that Saratoga is open.

Strange coverage by CBS

The NTRA Champions Series on CBS was designed to capture the interest of viewers who previously had little or no exposure to horse racing. If they watched the telecast of the Whitney, then a lot of those neophytes probably came away thinking this is a stupid game. It would be perfectly understandable if viewers were confused seeing a big fat check being presented to the owner of Albert the Great and no presentation at all to the connections of the winner, just a brief interview with Bailey. The check to Albert the Great was his reward for accumulating the most points in the series. It was backward, however, to make a big deal over a horse who lost and make virtually no notice over the horse who won.

Xtra Heat impressive in defeat

Victory Ride proved in winning Saturday's seven-furlong Test Stakes at Saratoga in just her fourth start that she is a top-notch filly. And, given her pedigree (she's by Seeking the Gold out of a Flying Paster mare), I'm sure she will stretch out effectively down the road. However, in finishing a clear second, Xtra Heat showed more in the Test than in any one of her 14 previous victories. Xtra Heat disputed impossible fractions of 21.51 seconds and 44.00 with Harmony Lodge, and was still in there punching in mid-stretch before finally succumbing. Harmony Lodge, meanwhile, was eased under the line, almost 36 lengths behind Xtra Heat.

Skeptical about comeback horses

It's great to see last year's champion 2-year-old male, Macho Uno, and last year's Preakness winner, Red Bullet, back in action. Still, as sharp as they were in their comebacks at Saratoga - Macho Uno was beaten a nose opening day, and Red Bullet won on the Whitney undercard - there are reasons to temper one's enthusiasm.

Macho Uno was all over the track in the stretch Wednesday, much like when he beat Point Given by a nose in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall. It turned a sure win into a loss. For a horse who behaved perfectly on the track in his first three starts, Macho Uno has suddenly become a bad actor. He will get blinkers next time, and maybe that will do the trick.

As for Red Bullet, he ran as fast as he had to Saturday, which wasn't all that fast. Victory Ride went her seven furlongs 0.17 of a second faster, and the promising maiden winner Orientate went six furlongs 0.39 of a second faster than Red Bullet's six-furlong split. This was only a comeback, and Red Bullet has every right to improve. But he will have to run a lot faster if he is to be a serious factor in the big races this fall.