05/05/2010 11:00PM

Belmont roundup

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WHO'S HOT

Allen Jerkens

Score another upset for the Hall of Fame trainer, who turned 81 on April 21 and celebrated by saddling Le Grand Cru ($56.50) to win the Grade 3 Westchester on opening day. It was the sixth Westchester win for Jerkens.

Le Grand Cru, a potential "I Love New York" poster child, was out of the money in four starts at Gulfstream Park during the winter, but has won his last three starts on this circuit, having won the Kelso and Bold Ruler last October, the Bold Ruler at nearly 8-1.

"I didn't think he'd be that big a longshot," Jerkens said. "I don't know why he didn't run so well in Florida, but we gave him a rest, and he had a couple of real nice works, just great. We'll enjoy this and see how he comes out of it, but of course we will look at the Met Mile - do we ever stay home when we should?"

Jerkens's only other starter during the three-day opening week was Worthy Wager, who finished second at 8-1 behind odds-on Eagle Strike.

Jimmy Jerkens

The Westchester's $204.50 father-son exacta was completed by Convocation, last year's Dwyer runner-up, who appears primed for a big 4-year-old campaign for Jimmy Jerkens. A Pulpit colt, Convocation was two lengths off the lead after a half-mile, dropped back several lengths through the third quarter, and came on again to nip pacesetting Ironman Jon for second in the final strides.

"Well, if we had to get beat, at least we got beat by The Chief," Jimmy Jerkens said. "We're wondering why our horse kind of gave himself a breather there, but it was good to see him come back on - that's a good sign."

Jerkens also sent out the second and third finishers in the Fort Marcy, Dynamoor, and Brother Nick.

Coiled Spring ($6.10), a second-time starter adding Lasix, closed out the first week by wiring Sunday's nightcap at six furlongs on the inner turf.

One-time assistants to The Chief

Mike Hushion, who worked for The Chief for seven years before going out on his own, finished up the Big A spring meet with a 5-3-2 record from 13 starters.

Ironman Jon, making the third start of his career, led to deep stretch in the Westchester and completed the trifecta.

Cornelio Velasquez

Saratoga's leading rider in 2007, Velasquez topped the standings with five wins through opening week, including the Westchester with Le Grand Cru and the Fort Marcy with Baletti ($7.40), who nailed Dynamoor at the wire.

Favorites

After wrapping up Aqueduct's 19-day spring session at Aqueduct at 68 for 176 (39 percent), the post-time choice got off to a 14-for-29 (48 percent) start at Belmont.

Though no one hit the pick six the first two days, resulting in a $96,000 carryover, Sunday's sequence comprised five favorites and a second choice at $9.20. The payoff was a mere $340, and the pick five consolation was $7.70.

TRACK TRENDS

Just to put a bow on Aqueduct, the track was sloppy for the April 25 getaway program, and the rail seemed like the deepest part of the strip.

Moving on, Big Sandy doesn't have much of a speed-favoring reputation, but early-pace horses tend to do better than is commonly perceived.

In fact, according to the Racing Flow figures, last Sunday's rating of -176 made it the second-most speed-conducive day of the year on the circuit, eclipsed only by a -203 on Aqueduct's main track April 7. Four of six winners on the main track led at the pace call, including a gate-to-wire winner at 11-1. The other two were second at the pace call.

The switch to Belmont also means turf sprints have resumed. At the 2009 fall meet, positional speed was essential for success going six furlongs on the inner course, and that trend appears to be up and running again this spring. Two of the four winners led past every pole last week. In the other two races, the pacesetters held second, at 16-1 and 9-1.

While it's tougher to win on the front end in turf routes, it can still happen when horses are allowed to set up shop on a leisurely lead. Exhibit A in that regard last week was Dynaslew ($8.90), who wired Saturday's Beaugay on the inner course with the following splits: 25.87 seconds, 25.11, 23.39, 22.25, and a final sixteenth in 5.77 seconds.

"I couldn't dream anything better than the trip I got," said Eibar Coa, who stole the race in broad daylight. "I knew I was the lone speed in the race, but for them to allow me to go that slow in front was a plus."

Finishing ability was of utmost importance in the six routes on the Widener course, with five of the winners positioned anywhere from fifth to eight in the early going.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Saturday's Dwyer, which formerly marked the second half of the 3-year-old stakes program in New York, has been moved up and is now the equivalent of the discontinued Peter Pan, which for years served as the key local prep for the Belmont Stakes.

Next Saturday's 35th running of the Shuvee, a $150,000 Grade 2 at a mile for fillies and mares, is shaping up as a showdown between Seattle Smooth and Careless Jewel, who will each be making their seasonal debuts.

Seattle Smooth, last year's Shuvee winner, has a five-race winning streak but has been sidelined by ankle issues since taking the Ogden Phipps here last June.

Careless Jewel, the front-running winner of the Alabama and Fitz Dixon Cotillion last year, has not started since setting the pace and stopping as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic. She was originally intended for last week's La Troienne at Churchill Downs but was rerouted to the Shuvee after missing a few days of training because of a quarter crack.

Also nominated is Dr. Zic, who wired the Madison at Keeneland in April and was scratched from last week's sloppy renewal of the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs.

CAN'T KEEP A GOOD MAN DOWN AWARD OF THE WEEK

After notching his eighth consecutive meet title in New York across town, Ramon Dominguez won with one of his first 12 mounts and was blanked with five favorites.

Oddly enough, however, Dominguez closed the week with a positive return on investment, thanks to a front-end score on Long Way Round ($25.20) on Sunday.

HORSES TO WATCH

Christmas for Liam

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Last race: April 30, 3rd

Finish: 1st by 4 3/4

After being squeezed back at the start and rallying for third at Gulfstream first time out, this 3-year-old colt by 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam flashed top-of-the-division potential to graduate going away at a mile with a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.

Mystical Code

Trainer: Mark Hennig

Last race: May 2, 5th

Finish: 7th by 6

She was looking to come out for running room in upper stretch of a $25,000 maiden claimer on turf, when she got bumped soundly by the eventual third-place finisher and kept in behind horses at a crucial juncture.

Spanish Art

Trainer: Shug McGaughey

Last race: May 1, 5th

Finish: 1st by 2 1/4

He had been knocking on the door with four runner-up finishes, and busted it down to run down maiden special weight turf routers with a powerful stretch run, matching his Beyer top earned in his previous start (on Polytrack) with blinkers on. This gray 4-year-old by El Prado looks like a late bloomer for patient outfit.

Shrewd One

Trainer: Pat Kelly

Last race: May 1, 6th

Finish: 2nd by 2 1/4

A Flying Zee Stable homebred, he won his off-the-turf sprint debut at Belmont last Oct. 1, and returned seven months later to finish a solid second behind favored Stormin Bolt (now 2 for 3) in a well-run first-level allowance for New York-breds.