06/02/2006 12:00AM

Ermine to cut back in the Acorn

Jeff Coady / Coady Photography
Ermine, winning the Honeybee at Oaklawn, will run in the one-mile Acorn on Belmont Day.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Ermine, runner-up to longshot winner Lemons Forever in the Kentucky Oaks, will cut back to a one-turn mile when she runs in the Grade 1, $250,000 Acorn, trainer Ronny Werner confirmed Friday.

The Acorn, which has been moved to Belmont Stakes Day, appears to be drawing a stellar field. In addition to Ermine, others expected to run include Grade 1 winners Bushfire and Adieu, Nassau County winner Hello Liberty, and the multiple stakes winner Miraculous Miss. They are expected to be joined by Smart N Pretty, disqualified from first in the Black-Eyed Susan; Teammate, who won the Bonnie Miss; and longshot She's Excellent. Wonder Lady Anne L is a possibility.

Ermine had a rough trip in the Kentucky Oaks, steadying into the first turn, before rallying to be second.

"She's always shown up," Werner said. "[The Oaks] was a step up in class and she stepped up."

Werner said he is a little concerned cutting back from two turns to a one-turn mile.

"She's excelled at the two turns," Werner said. "But you got the big, sweeping turns up there, so we'll give it a shot."

Werner said he hopes to work Ermine over the weekend at Churchill Downs, and she will ship to New York on Wednesday.

Velazquez returns a winner

Jockey John Velazquez made a triumphant return to the saddle on Friday, guiding Mr. Sam I Am ($4.50) to a 2 3/4-length victory in a New York-bred maiden turf race at Belmont.

Velazquez, winner of the Eclipse Award the last two years, had been sidelined since suffering a broken shoulder and cracked rib in a spill at Keeneland on April 20.

Velazquez had been named to ride Scat Daddy in a 2-year-old maiden race at Monmouth on Friday. But when a similar race filled for Saturday at Belmont, trainer Todd Pletcher scratched Scat Daddy out of the Monmouth race. Pletcher said jockey Garrett Gomez agreed to give up the mount on Mr. Sam I Am so that Velazquez could ride.

"Just to come back and do what you do and what you love the best, it just feels great, and you get to win it's even better," said Velazquez, who guided his horse through an opening along the rail.

Velazquez, who has been getting on horses in the morning for more than a week, said he wanted to start riding at this time so that he can gain fitness in preparation for Saturday's Belmont Stakes, where he'll ride Bluegrass Cat.

"You can work in the mornings, you can ride as many as you can, but you never know how much fitness you can get out of that," Velazquez said. "That's why I wanted to start this weekend and get some good blow out of my lungs. It feels really good. I'm actually better than I thought I was going to be. I'm surprised how my body has taken it."

Velazquez was scheduled to ride Scat Daddy on Saturday at Belmont and was named on two horses for Sunday.

Wilko moved to Hennig's barn

Wilko, the winner of the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile who finished fifth in the Metropolitan Handicap here last Monday, will remain in New York with trainer Mark Hennig, co-owner Paul Reddam said Thursday.

Wilko will be pointed to the Grade 1, $400,000 Suburban Handicap at 1 1/4 miles, a distance that previous trainer Jeremy Noseda thinks will better suit the 4-year-old colt. The Suburban is slated for July 1.

Reddam said part of the decision to stay in New York is to avoid the red-hot California handicap horse Lava Man, who is being pointed to the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 8.

"He's going to stay in New York under the care of Mark Hennig, principally because we should duck Lava Man," Reddam said.

In the Met Mile, Wilko raced behind the leaders early and never threatened the winner, Silver Train.

"He came out of that race fine," Reddam said. "He never really engaged. We might put blinkers on the horse. When he's not in the dogfight, he sometimes disengages."

Wilko, a winner of 3 of 21 starts, is winless in 11 starts since the BC Juvenile. He was trained by Noseda for the Juvenile win and was sent to Craig Dollase in California after that race. With Dollase, Wilko's 3-year-old campaign in 2005 included a third in the Santa Anita Derby and a sixth in the Kentucky Derby.

Earlier this year, Wilko finished third in the San Antonio and Santa Anita handicaps. He joined Noseda's stable after finishing a game third in the $6 million Dubai World Cup in March. In recent months, Wilko had been based at Noseda's stable in Newmarket, England.

NYRA seeks to uncouple entries

The New York Racing Association is seeking approval from the New York State Racing and Wagering Board to uncouple entries in a race from the same trainer provided the horses are running for different owners. New York is one of the few jurisdictions that is mandated to couple same trainer-different owner entries in maiden, allowance, and claiming races.

NYRA president and CEO Charles Hayward said the coupling of entries cost NYRA more than 300 betting interests in 2005.

According to NYRA senior vice president Bill Nader, the state board will open the issue up to public discussion and said if a rule change is made, it likely would not occur before 2007.

Revised entry schedule for Belmont week

Horsemen should be aware of a revised entry schedule for Belmont Stakes week.

On Sunday, the racing office will take entries for both the Thursday and Friday cards. Thursday's card includes the $65,000 Ormsby Stakes for New York-breds going one mile. Friday's card includes the Grade 3, $100,000 Hill Prince for 3-year-olds at one mile on turf and the $65,000 Queen of Song, an overnight stakes for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs on dirt.

Entries for the Belmont Day card will be taken Wednesday. Entries for the Sunday, June 11, card will be taken Thursday, while entries for Wednesday, June 14, will be taken Friday. There will be no entries taken on Belmont Day.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen