Friday's Belmont Notes: Getting in Final Licks

(from Belmont Park notes)
Preakness (gr. I) winner Afleet Alex, the favorite for Saturday's Belmont Stakes, settled into his new barn and routine without a problem.

Originally stabled in barn 14, Afleet Alex was moved across the street to barn 5 at the request of his trainer, Tim Ritchey.

"The press is here and the horse is there," said Ritchey, noting that the setup at barn 5 was better for dealing with the media. "He wasn't getting a lot of rest. We had some press that was coming over at 4, 5, 6 o'clock when he's eating his dinner and laying down. He normally is so friendly that he just gets up. This is where we were going to go to begin with. Whenever they weren't going to have that barn (14) as a detention barn where he could stay in that stall, with the amount of press we were starting to get, it was just a logical thing to do."

Ritchey reiterated a point he made earlier in the week, saying the Belmont Stakes is more than Afleet Alex versus the Derby winner, Giacomo.

"Any time you have a race with more than two horses in it – this is an 11-horse race," the trainer said. "You can't just count one or two horses in any race."

Afleet Alex jogged two miles over Belmont Park's oval early this morning.

John Shirreffs, the affable trainer of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo, seemed nice and relaxed just one day before the Belmont Stakes.

"This has been a thrill," Shirreffs said of the Visa Triple Crown trail. "Obviously, being on the road is always a little bit tough, but other than that, it's been super because Giacomo's handled everything so well."

Giacomo jogged over the main track this morning at Belmont. He will try to become the 23rd horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.

Southern Africa, the Lone Star Derby (gr. III) winner last month, schooled in the paddock a little past 11 a.m. Friday morning.

"He settled in like he owned the place," trainer Mike Puhich said. "He couldn't have done it any better."

The paddock may have been tranquil this morning, but that won't be the case tomorrow afternoon around 6:15 p.m.

"You can't prepare them for a madhouse like that," Puhich said. "Things have gone so smooth over the last few weeks, you're always worried something is going to go wrong. The good thing about him is if he gets hot in the paddock, he'll relax once he gets out to the track and warms up. He's ready."

Jockey Jon Court has the mount on Southern Africa tomorrow.

Reverberate, the third wagering choice on Belmont Stakes morning line at odds of 6-1, hit the track for the final time this morning. The Sal Russo-trained colt galloped over the main track this morning.

"Everything's all right," Russo said. "If he gets lucky enough to win tomorrow he'll make me look good. It would be nice if Centennial (Farms) won."

Jockey Jose Santos, who won the 1999 Belmont Stakes, has the mount tomorrow.

After jogging from the quarter pole to the wire, Belmont Stakes longshot Watchmon had a light gallop around the main track this morning.

"It was a little give and take," trainer Pat Reynolds said. "We weren't asking him for any speed. As he finished he began to pick it up through the stretch."

Reynolds said he has sized up the competition on paper, but has not discussed race strategy with owner Paul Pompa Jr. or jockey Javier Castellano yet.

"I'm not going to fall into the paralysis by analysis," Reynolds said. "I'll handicap the race with Mr. Pompa and we'll make a definitive plan as to what we think is going to happen."

Although his A.P. Arrow is listed at 20-1 on the morning line, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas remains very optimistic about the colt's chances. Lukas is shooting for his fifth win in the Belmont Stakes tomorrow.

"When a horse can run, he can run," Lukas said. "We've got a horse who is going to be competitive at a mile and a half."

Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, a two-time Belmont winner, has the mount.

Belmont Stakes longshot Nolan's Cat, a maiden, galloped over Belmont's main track this morning and stood in the starting gate for a while.

"He's a maiden, but he's very seasoned as far as the starting gate and paddock are concerned," trainer Dale Romans said. Nolan's Cat will be the first Belmont Stakes starter for Romans, owner Ken Ramsey and jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr.

A trip through the paddock prior to a 1 ½-mile gallop were the orders of the day Friday for Andromeda's Hero, Pinpoint and Indy Storm as their training reached the penultimate day.

Hall of Fame trainer-elect Nick Zito continued to hold firm to his hopeful outlook for his trio.

Andromeda's Hero has been winless since capturing the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 26, bowing to Flower Alley in the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway Park, Afleet Alex in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) and Giacomo in the Kentucky Derby.

The son of 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus  finished eighth in the Run for the Roses, a fact that has inspired the trainer to remind the media - as he did with last year's Belmont winner Birdstone - that he finished eighth not 18th. Andromeda's Hero, who has been training at Saratoga, just as Birdstone did, joins Giacomo and third-place finisher and Preakness winner Afleet Alex as the only horses from the Derby running in the Belmont.

Chekhov bounced onto the grounds at Belmont Park Friday morning at 6:40 following a three-hour van trip from Saratoga.

The son of Pulpit went to the track following the renovation and jogged a mile and galloped a mile in preparation for his start Saturday in the Belmont Stakes. "He went very well, and I'm very happy with him," said trainer Patrick Biancone.

The trainer said his colt would go to the track early Saturday morning to round out his race preparations. He comes to the race from a fourth-place finish in Belmont Park's Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II).

Chekhov, who brought $3.3 million at the 2004 Keeneland sale of 2-year-olds in training from owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, is stabled in barn 11.