Updated on 09/15/2011 12:31PM

Zito looking ahead to Classic


ELMONT, N.Y. - Sunday's $500,000 Suburban Handicap is as much about the past and future as it is about the here and now.

As one of two regularly scheduled graded dirt stakes run at 1 1/4 miles at Belmont Park, the Suburban takes on added significance this year because Belmont this fall hosts the World Thoroughbred Championships, highlighted by the $5 million Classic run at 1 1/4 miles.

"We're basically practicing for the Breeders' Cup," said Nick Zito, trainer of probable Suburban favorite Albert the Great.

For Zito, the Grade 2 Suburban also affords the opportunity to exorcise ghosts of tough beats past. Last August, Albert the Great was beaten a head by Unshaded in the Grade 1 Travers. In May, he was beaten a neck by Include in the Grade 1 Pimlico Special. Both of those horses are in the Suburban, along with Grade 1 winner Traditionally, California invader Lido Palace and the steadily improving Perfect Cat.

The Suburban is part of the "NTRA Champions" series, which offers a six-figure bonus to the owner of the horse that earns the most points. Include is atop the standings with 22 points, while Albert the Great is tied for third with 18. The Suburban will be televised live by CBS (4:30 p.m. Eastern) in a

90-minute telecast that also features the Hollywood Gold Cup, the United Nations Handicap, and the Stars & Stripes Breeders' Cup Turf.

Albert the Great certainly has a home-court advantage in the Suburban. He is 5 for 6 at Belmont, including a victory in last fall's Jockey Club Gold Cup, the other 1 1/4-mile dirt stakes run here.

In his last start, Albert the Great won the Brooklyn Handicap by 3 1/4 lengths. He was able to dictate the pace while running fast, yet sensible fractions. Sunday, he once again looms the lone speed under Jorge Chavez, who will break Albert out of post 2 under highweight of 123 pounds.

While Albert the Great has two solid five-furlong workouts since the Brooklyn, Zito does have some concerns heading into the race, specifically the hot weather.

"The weather has put a damper on me," he said. "You got to be concerned about it. I'm not making excuses, but he's a big horse, it's in the 90's here, and it's the first time we've come back in three weeks this year."

Bud Delp, the trainer of Include, expressed his concerns about the weights earlier this week. When Include beat Albert the Great in the Pimlico Special, he was getting seven pounds from him. Sunday, the spread is one.

But Include deserves to carry weight based on his 5-for-5 record this year, including an impressive four-length victory in the Massachusetts Handicap on June 2. He has trained well since, according to Delp.

"The horse couldn't be doing any better," Delp said. "I have no problem with him going a mile and a quarter."

Unshaded won the Travers at 1 1/4 miles last summer. He came out of that race with a tendon injury that required surgery. Unshaded returned a winner in a May 17 allowance race at Churchill Downs. He stepped up to the Grade 2 Stephen Foster, where he finished fifth, 5 1/4 lengths behind upset winner Guided Tour.

"We just weren't sharp enough or tight enough," trainer Carl Nafzger said. "He'll be sharper and tighter for here. He'll run a good race, but he will improve after this race. The Whitney is where he should be able to run as good as he can."

Lido Palace made a solid North American debut when he finished second in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap on May 19. He finished 7 1/2 lengths ahead of Guided Tour, who returned to win the Stephen Foster.

Trainer Bobby Frankel adds blinkers to Lido Palace, who ran for Frankel when third in the UAE Derby.

"Both times I ran him, both riders told me they had to ride him along to stay with them," Frankel said. "With the blinkers, hopefully, he'll break, take a little hold of the bit, and make a run."

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