05/30/2006 12:00AM

Cause to Believe states case

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer appears ready to send Cause to Believe cross-country for the 138th Belmont Stakes to be run on June 10.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Like most trainers with a healthy 3-year-old, Jerry Hollendorfer sees opportunity beckoning when he looks at this year's Belmont Stakes field. Now, it's just a matter of whether the northern California-based conditioner is ready to answer the call.

Hollendorfer is the trainer of Cause to Believe, a five-time stakes winner who finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby. With Derby winner Barbaro suffering a career-ending injury in the Preakness, and Preakness winner Bernardini skipping the Belmont for a summer campaign, Hollendorfer appears ready to send Cause to Believe cross-country for the 138th Belmont Stakes to be run on June 10.

Cause to Believe may have won his trainer over on Monday morning at Bay Meadows, when he worked a strong mile in 1:39.80. Hollendorfer, who loved the work, said he has the blessing of his owners, Peter Abruzzo and Peter Redekop, if he decides to run.

"I haven't made my decision yet; both owners have given me permission to do what I'd like to do in this situation,'' Hollendorfer said. "It is very difficult to win the Belmont, but it could have been loaded with more horses. Unfortunately, some of the good ones have gone by the wayside.''

Such was the case in 2000, the only other time Hollendorfer ran a horse in the Belmont Stakes. Like this year, that year's Belmont lacked the winners of the Kentucky Derby (Fusaichi Pegasus) and Preakness (Red Bullet). The race favorite was the late-running Aptitude, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby and who was still eligible for a first-level allowance race.

That year, Hollendorfer trained Globalize, who was forced to scratch from the Kentucky Derby when his stable pony kicked him at the end of a routine gallop two days before the race. The kick resulted in Globalize sustaining a 2 1/2- to 3-inch-long wound in a hock.

Globalize healed in time to run in the Peter Pan where he finished third. Off that performance, Globalize earned himself a start in the Belmont Stakes, where he had a disastrous trip and finished 10th of 11 as the 10-1 sixth betting choice.

Cause to Believe, a son of Maria's Mon, won the El Camino Real Derby and the California Derby before finishing third behind Sweetnorthernsaint in the Illinois Derby. Breaking from post 19 in the Kentucky Derby, Cause to Believe never really got involved in the race and was beaten 21 3/4 lengths.

"We got shuffled back to the inside of the racetrack and had nowhere to go,'' Hollendorfer said. "That's the danger in the Derby with 20 horses, you keep getting shuffled back. It happens. I wasn't upset or anything like that. There were some really awesome horses in the race that also contributed to people finishing eighth, ninth, and 14th.''

Belmont a tough sell this year

Trying to sell the Belmont without the Derby or Preakness winner will be a challenge for the New York Racing Association.

In 2000 - after three consecutive years in which a Triple Crown was at stake in the Belmont - a crowd of 67,810 attended the Belmont with no crown at stake. Ontrack handle was $8,379,055 while total handle was $54,198,334.

Last year, again after three consecutive Belmonts when a Triple Crown was at stake, a crowd of 62,274 attended the race to watch Derby winner Giacomo face Preakness winner Afleet Alex. Ontrack handle soared to $9,463,840 and total handle was $87,610,255.

Bill Nader, the senior vice president for the NYRA, said he believes the Belmont has developed into one of the most prestigious sporting events on the New York calendar.

"This is one of the really great racing days to be conducted this year in the country,'' Nader said Tuesday. "This year is a much better Belmont than 2000. This year you have the two-three-four finishers coming out of the Derby. Bernardini went to Pimlico as a good horse and came out of Pimlico as racing's newest star. I think the same thing could happen on Belmont Day.''

As of Tuesday, 11 horses were considered definite for the Belmont with Cause to Believe and Sweetnorthernsaint still listed as possible. Trainer Joe Orseno told NYRA stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes that Wilentz is doubtful in light of the growing field.

Belmont contenders

Horses pointing for the 138th Belmont at Belmont Park on June 10.

Bluegrass CatT. PletcherJ. Velazquez2nd, Ky. Derby
Bob and JohnB. BaffertG. Gomez17th, Ky. Derby
Deputy GlittersT. AlbertraniE. Prado8th, Ky. Derby
Hemingway's KeyN. ZitoJ. Rose3rd, Preakness
High FinanceR. VioletteE. Coa1st, Bel allowance
JazilK. McLaughlinF. Jara4th*, Ky. Derby
Oh So AwesomeJ. JerkensM. Smith3rd, Match the Hatch
Platinum CoupleJ. LostrittoJ. Espinoza6th, Preakness
Sacred LightD. HofmansV. Espinoza2nd, CD allowance
SteppenwolferD. PeitzR. Albarado3rd, Ky. Derby
SunriverT. PletcherR. Bejarano1st, Peter Pan
Also Possible
Cause to BelieveJ. HollendorferR. Baze13th, Ky. Derby
SweetnorthernsaintM. TrombettaK. Desormeaux2nd, Preakness

* - Dead heat