06/05/2005 11:00PM

Afleet Alex warming up

Afleet Alex, Salomon Diego up, gets ready for Saturday's Belmont Stakes, jogging and galloping 4 1/2 miles in the heat on Monday at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The heat got turned up at Belmont Park on Monday in every way possible. Anticipation began to simmer regarding the 137th Belmont Stakes on Saturday, which features a showdown between the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown, Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and Preakness Stakes winner Afleet Alex. And the temperature here began to rise, too, resulting in a warm, muggy morning that left Afleet Alex in need of a quick, cool spray from a garden hose when he returned from his demanding morning chores.

As he did the Monday before the Preakness, Afleet Alex had what will be his busiest training day of the week. He jogged once around Belmont's 1 1/2-mile oval before the renovation break, then went another three miles after the break, first jogging, then galloping strongly.

"That was his major work," said Tim Ritchey, who trains Afleet Alex. "He's done a lot of jogging and slow galloping. The second time around today, he went at a two-minute clip."

Even at the early hour of 9 o'clock, the temperature already was in the 70's, and the humidity made it seem far steamier. Afleet Alex was quite sweaty when he got back to the barn at 9:25, so he got a quick spray with the hose before continuing to cool out by walking around the covered shed row of Barn 14. "It was hotter than I expected it to be," Ritchey said.

Ritchey said he will train Afleet Alex the rest of the week in similar fashion to the way he did before the Preakness. Afleet Alex will not have any further two-a-day sessions. In a concession to the heat forecast for this week, Ritchey said Afleet Alex will go out early each morning, between 5:30 and 6.

"He'll go out early because of the heat," Ritchey said. "It's unusually hot."

Afleet Alex ran well in hot, humid weather last year at both Delaware and Saratoga. "It's always a concern," Ritchey said. "Fortunately, he drinks a lot of water. We have to make sure he's hydrated, just like any ballplayer."

The National Weather Service was forecasting warm temperatures for the early part of the week, slight cooling at mid-week, and highs in the mid- to upper-70's, with humidity, on Friday and Saturday. Isolated thunderstorms are forecast for both Friday and Saturday.

Afleet Alex is expected to be the favorite in the Belmont. Giacomo will be the second choice. Nine others are expected to be entered as well on Wednesday morning, when post positions will be drawn for the 1 1/2-mile race. Belmont's draw is a traditional blind draw, unlike the made-for-television events at the Derby and Preakness.

The field is expected to be Afleet Alex (Jeremy Rose, the rider), Andromeda's Hero (Rafael Bejarano), A.P. Arrow (Jerry Bailey), Chekhov (Gary Stevens), Giacomo (Mike Smith), Indy Storm (Edgar Prado), Pinpoint (John Velazquez), Reverberate (Jose Santos), Southern Africa (Jon Court), Watchmon (Javier Castellano), and the maiden Nolan's Cat, for whom trainer Dale Romans had yet to name a rider as of Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Giacomo worked six furlongs in 1:14.80 on Sunday morning at Hollywood Park. On Monday, his trainer, John Shirreffs, said Giacomo had come out of the work well and would be flown to New York early Wednesday morning.

"He worked very well. It was a nice, even work," Shirreffs said.

Giacomo worked in company with his usual workmate, Bullistic. He started 1 1/2 lengths behind Bullistic, drew closer on the turn, took the lead entering the stretch, and pulled away under exercise rider Sabina Seibel. This was the second work for Giacomo since his third-place finish in the Preakness on May 21. On May 30, Giacomo worked seven furlongs in 1:27.20.

"He was even more relaxed than last time," Shirreffs said.

Shirreffs timed Giacomo through an opening quarter-mile 26.40 seconds, a half-mile in 50.80 seconds, and five furlongs in 1:03.60. "I was wondering if Sabina was asking him, and she wasn't," Shirreffs said.

At Saratoga on Monday, Chekhov, who finished fourth as the favorite in the Peter Pan Stakes, worked five furlongs in 1:01.83 with exercise rider Rudolph Brisset.

"We want to prepare him to go a mile and a half, so we didn't want him to sprint," said Chekhov's trainer, Patrick Biancone. "He was nice and relaxed and came out of it well."

Biancone usually sends his horses to Belmont from Saratoga the morning of the race, but the New York Racing Association said that all Belmont Stakes horses must be on the grounds by noon Friday, so Chekhov will have to come a day earlier than Biancone desired.

Southern Africa, who has been training at Arlington Park since his victory in the Lone Star Derby on May 14, completed his serious preparation for the Belmont with a six-furlong drill in 1:13 on Sunday at Arlington with exercise rider Zoe Cadman. The time was the best of 10 at the distance. Like Chekhov, Southern Africa skipped both the Derby and Preakness.

"I was very happy - very pleased with the work," said Mike Puhich, who trains Southern Africa. "The horse will leave Wednesday morning for New York. I couldn't be happier with the way he has been training for the Belmont. He's been doing very well since his race at Lone Star. There have been no hiccups. As great a horse as Afleet Alex is, I think now is the time to see how we match up against him. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't an Afleet Alex fan after the way he ran his race in the Preakness."

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen and David Grening

Belmont contenders

Horses pointing for the 137th Belmont at Belmont Park on June 11.

Afleet AlexT. RitcheyJ. Rose1st, Preakness
Andromeda's HeroN. ZitoR. Bejarano8th, Ky. Derby
A.P. ArrowD. W. LukasJ. Bailey1st, CD maiden
ChekhovP. BianconeG. Stevens4th, Peter Pan
GiacomoJ. ShirreffsM. Smith3rd, Preakness
Indy StormN. ZitoE. Prado1st, Pim alw
Nolan's CatD. RomansUndecided2nd, CD maiden
PinpointN. ZitoJ. Velazquez1st, Sir Barton
ReverberateS. RussoJ. Santos2nd, Peter Pan
Southern AfricaM. PuhichJ. Court1st, LS Derby
WatchmonP. ReynoldsJ. Castellano2nd, Bel alw.