Roman Ruler Adds Sparkle to Dwyer

(from Belmont Park report)
Roman Ruler, one of the West Coast's top juveniles last season, is the likely favorite for Monday's $150,000 Dwyer (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, one of two stakes on Belmont Park's special Independence Day racing program.

But the Bob Baffert-trained multiple graded stakes winner faces double-trouble from trainer Todd Pletcher, who shoots for his second Dwyer winner with Flower Alley and Proud Accolade. Pletcher won the Dwyer two years ago with Strong Hope, a colt that went on to defeat Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Empire Maker in Saratoga's Jim Dandy (gr. II).

A field of seven was entered in the 1 1/16-mile Dwyer, which has been won by greats such as Man o'War, Gallant Fox, Omaha and Holy Bull.

Roman Ruler was entered in a high-priced optional claimer at Belmont last Wednesday but scratched due to the presence of Commentator. It was a good move by Baffert considering the 4-year-old Commentator won the race by 16 ½ lengths while nearly equaling Left Bank's seven-furlong track record under a hand ride.

Roman Ruler, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus , won the Best Pal (gr. II) and Norfolk (gr. II) in Southern California last year. He has only raced once since finishing fifth as the favorite in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) in October, running last of eight in the March 19 San Felipe (gr. II).

Although Roman Ruler has battled numerous hoof problems, he appears to be on his game entering the Dwyer. After cranking out a number of bullet workouts at Santa Anita, Roman Ruler worked six furlongs handily at Belmont Wednesday morning in 1:13.

Even though Proud Accolade defeated Afleet Alex in last year's Champagne (gr. I), Flower Alley appears the stronger of the two Pletcher horses. A son of Distorted Humor , Flower Alley went from relative obscurity to grade II winner and Kentucky Derby (gr. I) starter in less than three months. This is his first start back since finishing ninth behind Giacomo in the May 7 Derby. Prior to that, Flower Alley won the Lane's End (gr. II) at Turfway and finished second to Afleet Alex in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II). He has raced just five times.

"He's a young horse who had come a long way in a short period of time," Pletcher said. "In a matter of a couple of months, he was a horse that went from a maiden win into the big mix. We felt like we kind of rushed things a little bit and the right thing to do was back off. We circled the Dwyer on the calendar a while back."

Flower Alley wore blinkers for the first time in the Kentucky Derby and was very close to the pace in the early stages of the race. He dropped back after steadying behind the tiring Spanish Chestnut. Flower Alley will race with blinkers in the Dwyer, although Pletcher says he'll shorten the cups on the blinkers.

"It'll let him see a little more and maybe take a little of the edge away," he said.

Flower Alley teams up with jockey John Velazquez in the Dwyer as the 123-pound highweight.

Proud Accolade is four for six in one-turn races. A son of Yes It's True, he enters the Dwyer off a fifth-place finish to the undefeated Lost in the Fog in the Riva Ridge (gr. II) on Belmont Stakes Day. If Proud Accolade runs back to either of his victories in the Champagne or Hutcheson (gr. II), he'll have a big chance to win.

Also on Monday's card is the $100,000 Tremont for 2-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs.

$150,000 Dwyer Stakes (gr. II), 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles
PP. Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Wgt.
1. Mr. Congeniality, Mike Hushion, Richard Migliore, 115
2. Proud Accolade, Todd Pletcher, Cornelio Velasquez, 119
3. Middle Earth, Nick Zito, Gary Stevens, 115
4. Biloxi Palace, Dan Peitz, Javier Castellano, 115
5. Roman Ruler, Bob Baffert, Jerry Bailey, 119
6. Flower Alley, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 123
7. Freedom Isn't Free, Dominic Galluscio, Jose Santos, 115