Tuesday Belmont Notes: Watchmon, A. P. Arrow Breeze

Watchmon, a son of Maria's Mon who is expected to be one of the longest prices on the board in Saturday's Belmont Stakes (gr. I), breezed five furlongs over the main track at Belmont Park Tuesday morning in 1:00.09. Jockey Javier Castellano was aboard for the work.

Trainer Patrick Reynolds was pleased with the move.

"(Castellano) had horse every step of the way," Reynolds said. "He's not necessarily always a good work horse. He's sporadic in the morning. I was playing that psychological game going 'maybe he's not having a good morning or he just doesn't feel good.' A long time ago, trainer Frank Martin said when their bodies feel good they'll race or work good. After watching him work, I know he feels good and we got him right on the money."

Owner Paul Pompa Jr. was also on hand to see the work.

"He'll get the distance," Pompa said. "We're going to find out if he can class up or not. He exploded in his maiden win at Gulfstream after he went a mile and an eighth. That was good to see. He's gotten some bad trips in his last couple of races. Pat seems to feel that he's coming to hand now."

One day after his last big prep for the Belmont, Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Afleet Alex jogged around Belmont's 1 1/2-mile oval. The son of Northern Afleet   has been in the money in each of his 11 starts except for when he was sick and finished sixth in the Rebel at Oaklawn.

"This horse has a lot of stamina," Ritchey said. "I always wondered why people questioned whether he'll go a distance of ground or whether he'll win around two turns. He's got some champions that went a mile and a half and a mile and a quarter in his pedigree on the bottom side. To me, I think horses get more from the dam as far as endurance and distance is concerned."

Not only does Ritchey believe Afleet Alex has the pedigree to go a mile and a half, but he also feels that Afleet Alex has the right kind of style to get the distance as well."

"He rates so kindly that I don't think the distance will ever be a problem because he'll relax and lope along and make one good three-eighths of a mile run," Ritchey said.

One topic that continually comes up regarding Afleet Alex, especially after he almost fell in the Preakness and still went on to a commanding victory is his athleticism.

"He's very agile and athletic," Ritchey said. "I think he could run at Charles Town (six-furlong track) and not have a problem. He's got something special, which he had to have to overcome the Preakness fiasco. He's the most athletic and agile horse I've ever been around."

Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo got in his final exercise at Hollywood Park before the Belmont Stakes this morning, galloping one mile at the California track. Giacomo will leave Hollywood in the wee hours of Wednesday morning and should be at Belmont in late afternoon.

The Belmont is being billed as the rubber match between the Derby winner and the Preakness winner. Should either Giacomo or Afleet Alex win the Belmont, that horse would likely solidify his status as the divisional leader.

"I've never really thought about the Belmont that way," said Giacomo's trainer, John Shirreffs. "There is still a lot more racing left this year after the Belmont."

Shirreffs will leave California this afternoon and arrive in New York later tonight.

Centennial Farms was part of history in 1993 when its Colonial Affair won the Belmont Stakes with Julie Krone, the first woman to ride a Belmont winner, aboard. This year Centennial will start its third Belmont runner when Reverberate goes to the post against Afleet Alex and Giacomo. The outfit's other Belmont starter, Signal Tap, finished fourth in 1994.

Trainer Sal Russo, still feeling under the weather with a stomach flu, said he is looking forward to the Belmont. In a way, Russo has won two Belmonts. He worked for Scotty Schulhofer when Colonial Affair won and was Jose Santos' agent when he guided Lemon Drop Kid to victory in 1999.

"I'm from New York and if you're from New York you want to win the Belmont like everybody from Kentucky wants to win the Derby," Russo said.

Reverberate has seemed to hit his best stride over his last three starts. Before finishing second in the Peter Pan (gr. II) to Oratory, he was second to Noble Causeway and won a Belmont allowance.

"He was a late developer mentally and physically," Russo said.

Lone Star Derby (gr. III) winner Southern Africa galloped a mile and three-quarters at Arlington Park this morning, his final prep over that track before shipping to New York Wednesday.

"He'll leave the barn at 4 a.m. and he should be at Belmont by feed time," trainer Mike Puhich said. "He'll van from Chicago to Louisville then fly from there to New York."

Southern Africa figures to be one of the more playable longshots in the Belmont this year. As a 2-year-old, he ran in quality stakes like the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) where he finished fourth behind Declan's Moon, Giacomo and Wilko, only beaten three lengths.

"Running against that caliber of horses, I always thought more distance would be a big help for him," Puhich said. "We had a feeling that he would excel once he got away from the more speed-oriented tracks in California."

Puhich said he has only started a horse in New York once, and that was at Saratoga. He was at Belmont when his friend, Mike Pegram, was going for the Triple Crown with Real Quiet in 1998.

"What a heartbreaker that was," Puhich recalled the narrow defeat to Victory Gallop. "I don't know why that horse doesn't get any credit. I guess maybe he ran so many times as a 2-year-old. He was a better horse around two turns and he even won the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) and Pimlico Special(gr. I) at four."

Puhich will arrive in town Wednesday night.

Chekhov continues to make trainer Patrick Biancone's hopes rise as he moves ever closer to Saturday's race.

"He is nice and relaxed and very proud of himself," Biancone said. "He's the only one who doesn't know he lost last time."

The son of Pulpit, training at Saratoga for his French trainer, stood in the gate Tuesday morning before galloping seven furlongs. He will be shipped to Belmont Park on Thursday. The trainer will come on the same day, eschewing the chance to be at Wednesday's draw ceremonies.

Noting that the colt is only three years and three weeks old, Biancone, celebrating his 53rd birthday Tuesday, said he is beginning to show rapid signs of maturity.

"Psychologically, he's much more mature now. He's getting to be a man. He's beginning to be the boss of the barn. He's better coming to this race than any time before. The only thing I don't know about is the distance."

Chekhov's grandsire, A.P. Indy, won the 1992 Belmont Stakes.

Nick Zito sent his three Belmont Stakes charges through their regular paces Tuesday at Saratoga.

Turning in solid gallops over the Saratoga track were Andromeda's Hero, who finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness Stakes to concentrate on preparing for the Belmont; Pinpoint, winner of the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness day; and Indy Storm, who comes to the race from an allowance victory on the Preakness undercard.

Zito said Tuesday that all three were right on target for appearances in the Belmont Stakes. They will be shipped from Saratoga on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, A.P. Arrow, a son of A.P. Indy who also only has a maiden win to his credit from three starts, breezed at Churchill Downs. Trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas for owner-breeder Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, the colt zipped three furlongs in a bullet (fastest time of the day at the distance) :35 1/5 at Churchill Downs.

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