10/06/2005 11:00PM

Afleet Alex works fastest of 42

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Preakness and Belmont Stakes star Afleet Alex, unraced since June due to injury, is progressing fast - and is likely to race this week.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Afleet Alex convinced his connections that he's ready to return to the races next week by putting in another strong workout Friday morning over Belmont Park's main track.

With regular rider Jeremy Rose in the irons, Afleet Alex worked four furlongs in 46.02 seconds, the fastest of 42 works at the distance. The next-fastest clocking was 47.62 seconds. Afterward, Rose declared Afleet Alex fit and ready to run.

"My personal opinion is he's as fit as I've ever seen him and as strong as I've ever seen him," said Rose, who rode Afleet Alex to victories in this year's Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Trainer Tim Ritchey remains confident he can get Afleet Alex to the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 29. Ritchey wants a prep race first and has Afleet Alex nominated to several races next weekend. As of Friday, his race of choice is the Grade 2, $200,000 Perryville Stakes at Keeneland next Friday. The Perryville is run over Keeneland's Beard Course, which is seven furlongs and 184 feet in length.

Other possible spots are the $100,000 Colonial Affair Stakes at one mile at Belmont on Friday and the $100,000 Vincent Moscarelli Stakes at six furlongs at Delaware Park on Saturday. Afleet Alex is also nominated to the $150,000 Cliff Hanger Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile turf race at The Meadowlands on Friday night.

"The Perryville probably is my choice as of right now," Ritchey said.

Friday's work was Afleet Alex's second timed move since he recovered from surgery to repair a hairline fracture of a cannon bone suffered in July. On Sept. 30, Afleet Alex worked five furlongs in 59.85 seconds from the half-mile pole and galloped out strongly.

Friday, Afleet Alex left his stable pony at the mile pole and galloped from that point to the half-mile pole in 1:02, according to Ritchey. Afleet Alex began his work at the half-mile pole and went his first quarter in 23.07 seconds. He maintained a high cruising speed for the second quarter, which he covered in 22.95 seconds. Rose did not ask him to gallop out.

"Last week was more to see just where we were fitness-wise and he handled that very, very well," Ritchey said. "This week I wanted to see where we were endurance-wise. So we let him do basically a two-minute clip from the mile pole to the half-mile pole . . . then we wanted him to work from there to the wire and he went 46 [seconds]. He was still strong after a good open gallop for the first half-mile."

Ritchey said he would likely enter Afleet Alex in several races next week and see which ones fill. If, for some reason, none do, Ritchey said he wouldn't be averse to training him up to the 1 1/4-mile Classic.

"I'll know in a week or so if we can get a mile and a quarter," Ritchey said. "I think he's got enough bottom underneath him. The way he's worked the last two weeks have been very impressive. As long as we keep going forward I think we're in good shape to at least attempt to get to the Breeders' Cup Classic."

Turf racing limited to prevent course wear

After several jockeys complained about the condition of the turf courses, management agreed to run only one race a day on each course, weather permitting, for the foreseeable future. That schedule began on Wednesday.

According to jockey Jerry Bailey and track superintendent John Passero, the turf courses were hurt by a severe lack of rain during the summer and early fall. According to Bailey, the turf courses were getting firm to the point where the top layer was getting torn up.

"It was over-worn for what we have coming up, and the way in which the course is receiving the wear is not good," Bailey said. "I understand they went through a long heat spell here while we were gone in Saratoga. We've been in coordination with Passero and management in asking them to back off and go to one on each course a day outside the fences. It's not a typical year; we got the Breeders' Cup coming our way."

There have been a total of 67 races run on the grass through the first 21 days of the meet. Only eight races have been taken off the turf. Racing officials would prefer to card three turf races during the week and four on the weekends.

"We'll try to get in one a day [on each course]," Passero said. "If it's wearing a little better and the jocks are comfortable we'll try to sneak in two."

Turf racing this weekend could be hampered by a storm that had the potential to bring upward of two inches of rain.

The rails on both courses have been moved out 18 feet, meaning the inside four paths will be protected until at least the week of the Breeders' Cup.

"We have seeded it and repaired it, put some fast-growing seed - it germinates in five days," Passero. "The Breeders' Cup will be run on virgin turf."

Stellar Jayne works toward Distaff

Stellar Jayne, the Ruffian winner, worked five furlongs in 1:01.43 over the main track on Friday as she continues preparations for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff. Bailey was aboard for the move, which was the 11th-fastest of 22 at the distance.

Stellar Jayne was timed in fractions of 13.08 seconds, 25.12, and 49.02.

Richard Mettee, the New York assistant trainer for Godolphin Racing, said he wanted Bailey to work Stellar Jayne on the main track rather than the training track, where she often trains.

"On the main track, she pulls a little harder and she can get a little tough," Mettee said. "Jerry knows we've got two more pieces of work after this. I don't think the track's playing real fast, so it was a decent move for her. Jerry thought she worked fine."

Ruler's Court targets Sport Page next

Mettee said that Ruler's Court, winner of an allowance race earlier this meet, is being pointed to the $250,000 Sport Page Breeders' Cup Handicap on the Breeders' Cup Day undercard. On Thursday, Ruler's Court worked three furlongs in 36.01 seconds.

Mettee also revealed that Discreet Cat, Keep the Faith, Botanical, and the unraced 2-year-old Ever Shifting - who cost $5.3 million at auction - would be heading to Dubai next month after serving 30 days in a quarantine facility in Kentucky.

Gygistar pointed to BC Sprint

With the Breeders' Cup being held at Belmont Park, trainer Mark Hennig would like to run Gygistar, a Grade 1 winner, in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint, if he can get in.

Gygistar is 5 for 8 at Belmont, including four graded stakes scores. He won the 2002 Dwyer and Riva Ridge, and the Westchester in 2004 and again this year. In his most recent start at Belmont, Gygistar won a one-mile optional claiming race.

"He's fond of the track, he's always run well here, and the division has been depleted a little bit," Hennig said.

Gygistar's best success has come at seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, so he might be at a disadvantage going six furlongs. "Yeah, but he'd certainly get plenty of pace in front of him," Hennig said.

On Friday, Gygistar worked four furlongs in 48.21 seconds over Belmont's main track.

* Belmont will be open for racing on Monday, Columbus Day, featuring the $100,000 Pebbles for 3-year-old fillies at one mile on the turf.

* Following a dark day Tuesday, Belmont will be open Wednesday, then dark Thursday for Yom Kippur, before resuming its regular schedule on Friday. Entries for Wednesday will be taken Sunday; entries for Friday will be taken Monday.

* At Aqueduct, BC Classic-bound Saint Liam worked six furlongs in 1:15.21.