Monday Belmont Stakes Notes

From NYRA release
Cash Is King's Afleet Alex, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner and likely favorite for Saturday's grade I Belmont Stakes, had has last big prep for the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the Visa Triple Crown this morning, going to the racetrack twice and logging 4 1/2 to 5 miles.

"He basically warmed up early and then he galloped around twice," trainer Tim Ritchey said. "The second time was just kind of an open gallop to let him stretch his legs a little. He just needed to do a little acceleration, which he did. The second time around was close to a two-minute clip for probably close to a mile."

After a spring of moderate temperatures in New York, the mercury has reached into the 80s over the last few days and will stay there throughout the week. Ritchey does not envision the heat being a problem for Afleet Alex.

"It's a little hotter than I anticipated it being," Ritchey said. "We just have to make sure he's got some cold water on him and we get some fluids into him. The heat's always a concern, but he's never been a horse that the heat has bothered. He ran in the summer months at Delaware and Saratoga. As long as he drinks enough fluids, I don't see the heat being a problem."

Ritchey said Afleet Alex would train early in the mornings leading up to the Belmont, between 5:30 and 6 a.m.

"He'll go out early because of the heat," Ritchey said. "Tomorrow, he'll probably just jog once around just to recuperate from today."

Afleet Alex stood in the starting gate this morning, but Ritchey does not plan to bring him back there or school in the paddock before Saturday.

"He has no problems and he's been in that paddock before," Ritchey said. "He's not the kind of horse that gets upset by things. That would mean taking him over there in the heat of the day and from here on he just needs to relax and rest and get built back up and taper down before the race."

The connections behind Afleet Alex have put in countless efforts in an attempt to make the Northern Afleet  colt the best horse possible. Another measure will be taken this week when jockey Jeremy Rose rides at Belmont throughout the week to get a feel for the unique 1 1/2-mile oval. Rose won the 2001 Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding apprentice.

"Jeremy is going to ride Wednesday, Thursday, Friday as many mounts as he can get just to get experience over this racetrack because it's so much bigger," Ritchey said. "On a mile track, when you switch leads going into the turn, you want to put your horse in the race a little bit. Well, here you want to switch leads, but you want to relax for a little while longer until at least halfway around the turn, if not the quarter pole."

"The more he rides over this track, even if it's only going three-quarters of a mile, the more he's aware of how big and sweeping these turns are and how far it is from the point of that turn to the wire will help him immensely."

Trainer Mike Puhich said Lone Star Derby (gr. III) winner Southern Africa came out of Sunday's workout at Arlington Park in good shape. The son of Cape Town will van from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., where he will board a plane carrying Belmont runners based in California and Churchill Downs on Wednesday.

"He's a good shipper, so it's not a big concern," Puhich said of the unusual shipping arrangements.

Another non-issue for Puhich is the heat. He said he would probably be more uncomfortable than the horse.

"I don't handle humidity all that well," he said. "Actually, when we ran this horse in Texas, the heat was a concern of mine. It was real humid the day before the race, but it didn't seem to bother him. It's been pretty hot and humid in Chicago the last couple of days, so he should be accustomed to it."

When Southern Africa arrives at Belmont, he will be bedded down in barn 59 with trainer David Duggan, who met Puhich a few years back in California when he was working for trainer Eoin Harty.

"He's an excellent horseman," Puhich said of Duggan. "His girlfriend, Lara Robinson, is going to be getting on Southern Africa while he's in New York."

Trainer John Shirreffs said Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo exited Sunday's workout in good condition and that the colt is on target for the Belmont Stakes.

"He came out of the work very well," Shirreffs said. "He just had his walk day today."

The plans for Giacomo are to give him a light exercise Tuesday morning before making the long ship to New York on Wednesday.

"He'll probably leave the barn at one or two in the morning Wednesday," Shirreffs said. "The flight stops in Kentucky, so he should be in town Wednesday afternoon."

Shirreffs said that he does not have anything serious planned in the way of workouts or morning exercise once the horse arrives in New York.

"We'll just let him look at the racetrack," Shirreffs said. "He's a pretty good gate horse, so I don't think we need to take him to the gate. I might take him over to the paddock to let him see that."'

Shirreffs will be arriving in town Tuesday night.

At this point, it appears Watchmon will run in the Belmont Stakes. His trainer, Patrick Reynolds, plans on working him tomorrow morning.

"We'll be in there like James Braddock," said Reynolds, referring to the Hall of Fame boxer whose career has been portrayed in the movie "Cinderella Man. "We'll be fighting every round. He's a good horse and good horses have that advantage that they always try. If circumstances fall in your favor you can get lucky."

Reynolds plans on working Watchmon after the break tomorrow.

"He'll go either five eighths or three quarters," Reynolds said. "(jockey) Javier Castellano is going to work him."

Reynolds added Castellano would pilot Watchmon in the Belmont Stakes. Castellano won last Monday's grade I Metropolitan Handicap with reigning Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. Watchmon's sire, Maria's Mon, was voted champion juvenile back in 1995.

Nolan's Cat, the maiden who is running in the Belmont, is still riderless. His trainer, Dale Romans, said a decision regarding a jockey would be made this afternoon.

Romans added that Nolan's Cat galloped this morning at Churchill Downs. He said the colt probably would not work before the Belmont.

"He worked a mile last Wednesday and I think he's fit enough," Romans said. "I don't think he needs a work."

Nolan's Cat is expected to leave Kentucky Wednesday.

"Everything is set," said a low-key but confident Nick Zito Monday morning in regard to his trio of hopefuls for Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

Andromeda's Hero, Pinpoint, and Indy Storm galloped at Saratoga on Monday morning as they progressed toward the "Test of the Champion." They are to be shipped from Saratoga to Zito's barn at Belmont Park on Wednesday.

"They all are doing fine," Zito said.

The Hall of Fame-elect trainer said the decision to run Indy Storm came after the colt's seven-furlong work in company with Andromeda's Hero on Saturday. "I was up there Saturday," Zito said Monday morning, "and I liked the way he worked. I like the way he's coming around. He's coming around the right way. He's by A.P. Indy and I figured why not [try the Belmont Stakes]? His father won the Belmont."

Zito has riders booked for each of his prospects. Rafael Bejarano has the call on Andromeda's Hero, John Velazquez will be aboard Pinpoint ,and Indy Storm will have the saddle services of Edgar Prado.

Chekhov, the $3.3 million buy at the 2004 Keeneland sale of 2-year-olds in training, made trainer Patrick Biancone "very happy" Monday morning with a five-furlong workout at Saratoga in 1:01 4/5. "He increased his speed as he worked," said Biancone, who added that the colt actually went a little farther. "We wanted him to increase his speed as he went along. After all, you know he is going a mile and a half Saturday."

Regular exercise rider Rudolph Brisset was in the irons for the work. Biancone, who has 35 horses at what he calls his "summer camp" at Saratoga, said Chekhov, owned by Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, would be shipped by van to Belmont Park Saturday morning.

Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens will ride Chekhov.

Although trainer Sal Russo continues to nurse a case of the flu, owners of Centennial Farms confirmed that Reverberate would indeed enter the Belmont Stakes.

Jose Santos will have the mount on the son of 1995 Kentucky Derby/Belmont Stakes/Travers winner Thunder Gulch.

A.P. Arrow, trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, completes the Belmont field.