The bloodlines coursing through Albano have already proven Kentucky Derby-worthy once. And if the qualifying points system holds form the way it did a year ago, Albano is in good shape to earn a place in the American classic regardless of his placing in Saturday's Grade II, $1 million Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.
Two years ago, however, trainer Larry Jones and owner Brereton Jones declared Albano's half-brother Mark Valeski out of the Kentucky Derby not because of injury, but because he just wasn't showing them his best self in training that week.
So while Albano's current 11th-place ranking on the Derby points leader board is of some comfort to his connections, falling backward into the first Saturday in May doesn't go over so well in his camp.
"I personally feel like he's safe on numbers but we're not going to run in the Derby to run in the Derby," Larry Jones said from Fair Grounds Thursday. "We'll only go in the Derby thinking we have a heck of a shot to win it. That's what we go for."
Jones has faith Albano will do all the convincing necessary when he breaks from the outside post No. 10 in the 11⁄8-mile Louisiana Derby. After all, the bay colt owned every step of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds last month — except for that one stride at the wire when Intense Holiday, the morning-line favorite for Saturday's test, rallied to best him by a nose.
The fact Albano saved ground and got seemingly favorable fractions of 24.30 and 48.14 on the front end that day led some to believe there should have been enough in reserve to keep Intense Holiday in the silver-medal spot.
Jones counters that while the numbers say Albano was on easy street on the lead, the fact horses came to him along the way and faded shows his charge was maybe clicking along at a more taxing pace than figures suggest.
"You look at that thing and think 'Boy he hooked an ideal pace'. But I will say this horse was challenged on 2-3 occasions and if that pace wasn't hot, why did those other horses quit?," Jones explained. "(Seventh-place finisher) Rise Up, he came to him down the backside and ... even (third-place finisher) Vicar's in Trouble got within a length of us and we beat him by 5 lengths and change.
"Even though it looked like we were doing it well within ourselves ... the pace might have been a little quick for that day, faster than what the numbers would show."
Getting over the graded-stakes hump has eluded Albano, but consistently strong runs have been a hallmark. Brereton Jones' homebred has hit the board in all five of his starts and was second to Vicar's in Trouble in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 18.
Albano's maiden win at Fair Grounds last November and his victory in the Sugar Bowl Stakes in December each saw the colt take over the lead by the half-mile mark and kick on from there. Where being drawn on the rail forced him to go the front in the Risen Star, Larry Jones said being on the opposite end this time will likely see jockey Kerwin Clark taking the colt back and letting others do the dirty work.
"We're going to be in a different game plan because if you send hard enough to the lead (from post No. 10), you'll be over-sending," Jones said. "It's obvious Rise Up will try and go to the front and there is a lot of early speed in there. In this outside post, if we can not get hung super wide around the turn, it might be OK for us."
When Jones declared Mark Valeski out of the Derby in 2012, he said he felt the colt was a Derby-quality horse, just not that week.
Albano's half sibling ran second in both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. Safe to say, this is the point where Jones wants the similarities to end.
"We're going to try and be realistic and hopefully if nothing else, maybe I'll know what it takes to win the Derby or at least get there and be competitive," said Jones, who saddled Hard Spun and Eight Belles to runner-up finishes in the Kentucky Derby in 2007 and 2008, respectively. "If (Albano) is showing that he'll be in there and if not we'll draw back and take a swing at something else. But right now we feel like our horse is on course and he has to continue to show improvement. But he's training like he's going to be there."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.