07/10/2005 11:00PM

Afleet Alex goes back to work

Afleet Alex, winning the Belmont Stakes with jockey Jeremy Rose, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.93 over Belmont's main track Sunday morning.

ELMONT, N.Y. - After a month's respite following his dominant Belmont Stakes victory, Afleet Alex returned to work Sunday morning, breezing five furlongs in 1:00.93 over Belmont Park's main track.

Regular rider Jeremy Rose was aboard Afleet Alex, whose time was the 13th fastest of 40 timed works over the main track, which was rated fast. Belmont Park clockers caught Afleet Alex in fractions of 13.42 seconds, 25.75, 37.73, and 49.44, meaning he got his last eighth in 11:59 seconds. Clockers timed Afleet Alex galloping out six furlongs in 1:14.58 and seven-eighths in 1:29.33.

"That's just basically a maintenance breeze, let him stretch his legs, put a little air into him," trainer Tim Ritchey said. "Jeremy said he went great, hit the ground perfect, did it very easily."

After falling one length short when third behind Giacomo in the Kentucky Derby, Afleet Alex overcame a bumping incident with Scrappy T at the top of the stretch to win the Preakness by 4 3/4 lengths before dominating the Belmont Stakes by seven. Those victories, along with his eight-length romp in the Arkansas Derby, have Afleet Alex perched comfortably atop the 3-year-old division.

Afleet Alex is likely to make four more starts this year, beginning with the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 7. The Travers, on Aug. 27 at Saratoga, and either the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs or Pegasus at The Meadowlands, both on Oct. 1, will lead him to the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont on Oct. 29.

Afleet Alex appears to have held his conditioning quite well during the rigors of the Triple Crown campaign, a fact that does not surprise Ritchey.

"Not really," he said. "He handled everything well as a 2-year-old. He went from the Sanford to the Hopeful to the Champagne to the Breeders' Cup. They were the four toughest 2-year-old races in the country. I think his 2-year-old season pretty much set him up for his 3-year-old year."

Since Afleet Alex's Belmont Stakes victory, Roman Ruler and Surf Cat have won graded stakes in the division and could be threats to Afleet Alex in the second half of the year. Ritchey said he is only worrying about his colt.

"I'm sure we're going to come up against some really good horses, a little later-developing horses, but I can only worry about mine," said Ritchey, who tentatively plans to work Afleet Alex again on July 20.

Closing Argument may go to W. Va.

One 3-year-old Afleet Alex is unlikely to encounter in the short term is Closing Argument, the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and ninth-place finisher in the Preakness.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Monday that "things haven't been going real smoothly" for Closing Argument, though he wouldn't be specific. McLaughlin is hoping to have Closing Argument ready to run in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 14 at Mountaineer.

McLaughlin said Closing Argument has been training daily, but he hasn't worked since the Preakness.

"We gave him time after the Preakness, about 10 days of walking, and he's been a little behind schedule getting back," McLaughlin said. "But he's going to the track every day. If he's doing great we could skip the West Virginia Derby and train up to the Travers, but I just want to get to working again. He looks fabulous."

Forest Danger to skip Tom Fool

Forest Danger would have loomed a heavy favorite in Sunday's Grade 2, $150,000 Tom Fool Handicap. But trainer Todd Pletcher said he believes Forest Danger needs more time and will point him to the $200,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 13.

Forest Danger won the Grade 1 Carter in April, but finished a disappointing fifth, 13 3/4 lengths behind Ghostzapper, in the Metropolitan Handicap on May 30. Forest Danger was bearing out throughout the Met Mile.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said Forest Danger came out of that race with a sore glutteal muscle, which has since been blistered. On Monday, Forest Danger worked five furlongs in 1:01.59 over Belmont's main track.

"I'm a little bit tempted but we're not going to do it,'' Pletcher said. "I feel like we need a little more time. He's rounding back into form and we're a month away from the Vanderbilt.''

Without Forest Danger in the field, the Tom Fool is coming up rather light. Gators N Bears, winless in eight starts the last 13 months, is likely to be the starting highweight at 117 pounds. Gators N Bears won the James B. Moseley Breeders' Cup Handicap at Suffolk Downs in June 2004. He has finished no worse than fourth in eight stakes tries since.

Others pointing to the race are Willy o'the Valley (115 pounds), Smokume (115), Gadace's Khamseh (113), Clever Electrician (112), and Voodoo (112). Grand Reward (115) and Swingforthefences (114) are possible.

Ashado to wait for Go for Wand

Ashado is another of Pletcher's stars who will pass a stakes opportunity this weekend. Ashado, last year's 3-year-old filly champion, will skip Sunday's $1 million Delaware Handicap and instead run in the Grade 1, $250,000 Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga on July 31.

Pletcher will run Isola Piu Bella in the Delaware Handicap.

Pletcher said the Go for Wand fits better into Ashado's schedule, and added that Delaware Park can sometimes be a difficult track for horses that haven't run or trained over it. Isola Piu Bella won the Obeah Handicap by two lengths on June 18 at Delaware Park.

Pletcher said the remainder of Ashado's 4-year-old campaign would likely include the $300,000 Ruffian on Sept. 11, the $750,000 Beldame on Oct. 1, and the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff, a race Ashado won last year.

Ashado, who won the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap in her last start, worked five furlongs in 1:01.53 Monday morning.

New York official's wife dies

Norine Spadaro, the wife of Joe Spadaro, the deputy executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund, died Monday after a battle with cancer. She was 61.

Norine Spadaro worked for 24 years as a certified cardiac nurse at Glen Cove Hospital.

A viewing will be held Wednesday from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Dalton Funeral Home, 47 Jerusalem Ave., Hicksville, N.Y 11801. A funeral mass will be held Thursday at 9:45 a.m. at the St. Ignatius Church, 129 Broadway in Hicksville.

In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made to Casting for Recovery (Long Island Retreats), P.O. Box 1123, Manchester, Vt., 05254.