06/08/2006 12:00AM

Bramlage hopes to stay behind scenes

Sunriver, galloping at Belmont Park on Thursday with Angel Cordero up, is the second choice on the morning line for Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Dr. Larry Bramlage will be dressed for a television appearance Saturday at Belmont Park, but he would be happiest if you never saw him.

Bramlage will be the veterinarian ABC Sports turns to should there be a horse-related injury in the . The American Association of Equine Practitioners provides a vet, free of charge, to ABC, ESPN, CBS, and NBC for all their televised races, but the only time viewers see the vet is if a horse gets hurt.

Bramlage had to be called on three weeks ago at Pimlico, when Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro suffered a catastrophic injury in the Preakness Stakes. Bramlage provided NBC with an immediate update of Barbaro's condition, then minutes later provided a further update after learning the results of radiographs that were taken after Barbaro was returned to the stakes barn.

The AAEP's on-call program has been in existence for 15 years. The impetus came from the 1990 Breeders' Cup, in which three horses, most notably Go for Wand, died. The AAEP believed it would be helpful to have a veterinarian on call to assist the television crews in relaying accurate information.

"There was a void of information," said Sally Baker, the director of public relations for the AAEP. "What happened at the Breeders' Cup left people wondering, 'What happened? Why were those horses euthanized?' "

All the veterinarians who work in the on-call program volunteer their time. Funding comes from the AAEP, which receives grants from racing-related entities, such as the Oak Tree Racing Association.

"The AAEP pays for all the administrative costs, such as getting the vets there," Baker said. "And the vets are not compensated."

All veterinarians who want to be part of the on-call program must go through a media training program with the firm Pedersen and McGrath in Chicago, Ill., Baker said.

"Last year, there were over 100 live televised races on national television, and we ensure that someone is standing by at all of them," Baker said. "When something does happen, you have a credible person who can provide timely and accurate information."

The on-call veterinarian uses a walkie-talkie to communicate with the track veterinarian and subsequent attending vets. For instance, at the Preakness, Bramlage got his initial information from Pimlico's track vet, Dr. David Zipf, and then later updates from Drs. Richard Ferris and Dan Dreyfuss, who were among those attending to Barbaro at the barn.

On Saturday, Bramlage and Dr. Stephen Carr - who will be assigned to the stable area - will work seven-hour shifts, beginning with ESPN from noon to 5 p.m. Eastern, before the two-hour Belmont Stakes show. Bramlage will be positioned at the winner's circle, just off camera from the announcers. And if the day goes perfectly, you will never see him on camera.

"We have someone there just in case," Baker said. "But hopefully we don't have to use them."

Shakespeare, Exclusive Quality on shelf

Saturday's Belmont Stakes undercard is very good, but the addition of a few horses could have made it even better.

Shakespeare, a Grade 1-winning turf horse from last year, would have added to an already loaded Manhattan field. But Shakespeare has been ailing this year, and trainer Bill Mott has sent him home. Mott wouldn't be specific about Shakespeare's problems, but said Shakespeare would be off for some time.

"It's been stop and go all year," Mott said. "He needs not to be at the track for a while. He doesn't need the trainer training on him for a while."

Shakespeare won the first five starts of his career, including the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational, in which he beat English Channel. He last raced in the Breeders' Cup Turf, where he finished 12th of 13. Shakespeare resumed training in late January and showed two three-furlong works at Payson Park before being sent to Dell Ridge Farm.

Exclusive Quality, a winner of three straight sprints this year, would have looked good in Saturday's $250,000 Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup, but he is nursing an ankle injury suffered shortly after he won the Spectacular Bid at Gulfstream Park on April 1. He ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.88.

"He had an ankle flare up on him," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who said Exclusive Quality is recuperating on a farm in Ocala. "He'll probably be back in training here shortly."

Does Biancone have an advantage?

Training horses this spring in New York has been frustrating for most horsemen. With all the rain that has fallen, figuring out when to work horses has not been easy.

Trainer Patrick Biancone, however, has not had that problem. Biancone has kept a large portion of his stable at Turfway Park, where his horses get to train over the Polytrack, a surface that is unaffected by weather. Biancone will be bringing three horses to stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park off the Polytrack. Likely runs in the $250,000 Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup, Gorella runs in the $300,000 Just a Game Breeders' Cup, and Spanish Chestnut runs in the $200,000 True North.

Biancone said Polytrack has "changed the life of a trainer, because you don't care if it rains or not. I'm training on it for eight months, and in those eight months we had winter, we had 100-degree days, all kind of things, and the track is the same every day."

Gorella is Biancone's best chance on Saturday, and Likely is a contender in the Woody Stephens.

"I don't expect to go 3 for 3," Biancone said. "When you have a day like that and you have three runners, if you win one you're very happy; if you win two it's a great day; if you win three you remember it all your life."

In the Just a Game, trainer Christophe Clement will send out Ozone Bere and Bright Abundance against Gorella.

"Patrick's got a huge edge on us," Clement said. "The last four weeks here, it's been on and off, on and off. It'd be wonderful for all of us horsemen to have a Polytrack as a training tool, and hopefully we will get it."

In a meeting with horsemen earlier this month, NYRA president Charles Hayward said NYRA would consider converting the Belmont training track into a synthetic surface if it made sense. He projected the cost of such a conversion at $7 million.

- additional reporting by David Grening