04/08/2005 11:00PM

Bellamy Road cruises in Wood

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Bellamy Road leaves the rest of the field far behind en route to a 17 1/2-length victory in the Wood Memorial.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The prevailing wisdom was that Sun King was the leader of Nick Zito's quintet of Kentucky Derby hopefuls. There may be a shuffling of the deck.

Bellamy Road, making just his second start of the year, stamped himself as one of the top choices for the May 7 Kentucky Derby with arguably the most impressive performance in race's 81-year history.

Making the lead effortlessly entering the first turn under Javier Castellano, Bellamy Road raced to a 17 1/2-length victory in the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood. His final time of 1:47.16 for nine furlongs equals the Aqueduct track record set by Riva Ridge in the 1973 Stuyvesant Handicap. It is easily the fastest Wood Memorial ever run.

"I think he's the horse to beat in the Derby," said Edward Sexton, the racing manager for owner George Steinbrenner. "I'm pretty sure of it after that performance."

Survivalist, the Gotham winner, finished second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Scrappy T. Galloping Grocer, Naughty New Yorker, Pavo, and Going Wild completed the order of finish. It is unclear whether any of the also-rans will run in the Kentucky Derby.

Bellamy Road, a son of Concerto, won the Grade 3 Cradle as a 2-year-old before finishing third as the favorite in the Grade 1 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity. He was transferred from trainer Michael Dickinson to Zito earlier this year. Bellamy Road earlier this year won an allowance race by 15 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream.

On a track that favored speed, in a field that had several front-running types, Bellamy Road made the lead easily and ran fractions of 23.13 seconds, 46.08, 1:09.84, and 1:34.41. Inside the sixteenth pole, Castellano pumped his fist and pointed to the crowd of 9,944. Castellano needed help from an outrider to get the horse pulled up at the six-furlong marker on the backside.

"He was impressive, and I was very emotional," Castellano said. "I shake my hand before the wire because I knew I had plenty of horse. He'll like to go longer, no question about it."

Bellamy Road, who paid $7.10 as a slight favorite over Going Wild, continued Zito's unbelievable spring. The trainer won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby with High Fly, and he also has Florida Derby runner-up Noble Causeway, Tampa Bay Derby winner Sun King, and Andromeda's Hero. The latter two will run next weekend in the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby, respectively.

"I'm just happy to be in the game with these many horses," Zito said. "We'll see what happens next week . . . but this is pretty impressive today, no question."