Tom Albertrani is entering the fourth weekend of August with a huge bull's-eye on his back. The trainer will send out Balletto in the Personal Ensign (gr. I) Friday and the following afternoon will saddle Songster and Bernardini in the King's Bishop (gr. I) and Travers Stakes (gr. I), respectively.
"This is going to be a big weekend for us," Albertrani said during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference Tuesday.
Of the trio of Albertrani runners that will be in action against grade I company at Saratoga Race Course over the weekend, the spotlight is shining the brightest on Bernardini who turned the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) into a little more than a public workout with his nine-length romp in the 1 1/8-mile affair July 29.
"We couldn't have asked for a race to be any easier on him," Albertrani said of the Jim Dandy. "He pulled up to a gallop the last furlong. If you're going to go into the Travers with a fresh horse ....he certainly made the Jim Dandy look like a public workout, so to speak. But, we can't take anyone lightly here. If he comes back and runs that same race he's certainly going to be difficult to beat again."
Bernardini turned in his final pre-Travers workout Tuesday, completing a five-furlong breeze in 1:02 2/5. Exercise rider Simon Harris was aboard the son of A.P. Indy
out Cara Rafaela, by Quiet American
The Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner was timed in splits of :13 2/5, :25 4/5, :37 4/5, and :50 3/5.
"I thought the work was just what we were looking for," said the trainer who conditions the homebred for Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable. "We weren't looking for any speed this morning. He was just galloping. It was just a good work showing us he is in great health and doing well."
Expected to challenge Bernardini in the Travers is Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) winner Bluegrass Cat, Minister's Bid, Dr. Pleasure, High Cotton, and Hesanoldsalt.
"I think post position will play a little bit of importance in this race," Albertrani said. "I would rather be on the outside of High Cotton and Bluegrass Cat. We're just going to run our race and whatever happens is going to happen."
If Bernardini exits the Travers in good order, Albertrani expects him to make one more start, possibly in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) Oct. 7 at Belmont Park, before moving on the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.
In addition to Bernardini, Albertrani is also expecting a big race out of stablemate Balletto. The 4-year-old daughter of Timber Country out of the Ninjinsky II mare Destiny Dance enters the Personal Ensign off a heart-breaking loss to Spun Sugar in the Go for Wand Handicap (gr. I) July 30.
"I thought she ran a huge race in the Go for Wand," Albertrani said. "I just hope she comes back with a big effort Friday. It would be huge for her to win a grade I race after all that she has been through. We've been pointing toward the Personal Ensign since she came back."
Racing as a homebred for Darley, Balletto was out of action for 17 months after finishing second to champion Sweet Catomine in the 2004 Alberto VO5 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).
After the Breeders' Cup, she was sent to Dubai for the winter without racing. She was set back by surgery for an impacted intestine in June 2005 while training for a return in the United States, and was briefly retired. She returned to action in March with a fourth-place finish in an allowance contest at Gulfstream Park. She then tackled stakes company in the Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) and in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I), where she finished third and second, respectively.
Completing the trifecta of Albertrani-trained runners is the speedy Songster who will tackle Henny Hughes in the seven-furlong King's Bishop.
Songster most recently finished second, beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Court Folly in the Amsterdam Stakes (gr. II) July 31. Before that effort, the black son of Songandaprayer
out of the French Deputy mare Peppy Lapeau put together back-to-back graded stakes wins in the Hirsch Jacobs Stakes (gr. III) and the Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II).
"I think Henny Hughes is the horse to beat if he can control his speed," the trainer said. "I think we might try to rate Songster a little bit."
Albertrani said Songster would likely start next in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) on the Jockey Club Gold Cup undercard before a decision would be made concerning the TVG Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I).