09/22/2001 12:00AM

Express Tour rolls to victory in Jerome

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Express Tour rebounded from two straight defeats to win Saturday's Jerome Handicap at Belmont Park in an extremely sharp effort.

The Grade 2, $150,000 Jerome Mile for 3-year-olds was originally scheduled for last Saturday, but had to be pushed back a week when Belmont Cancelled last weekend's racing. It was worth the wait for Express Tour, who drew off to a 5 1/2-length win under jockey John Velazquez in a time of 1:34.57. Express Tour was the longest shot on the board in the select field of five, and paid $18.00 to win.

Hero's Tribute jumped out to an early lead in a quick :22.38 opening quarter-mile. Express Tour rushed up from second on the backstretch to challenge the leader through a half in :44.60. Hero's Tribute tired from the taxing pace, but Express Tour ran on through the lane and easily held off Illusioned who finished a nose ahead of Burning Roma in second. It was another 2 3/4-lengths back to Jim Dandy-winner Scorpion in fourth.

Express Tour won three of four starts in Florida last year before being purchased by Godolphin Racing last fall. He won his first start for his new owners and trainer Saeed bin Suroor in March in the UAE Derby on the Dubai World Cup undercard, but then lost two in a row in the Kentucky Derby and the Riva Ridge prior to Saturday's Jerome.

Earlier, in race seven on the 11-race Belmont card, Brave One scored a front-running two-length victory over No Bad Habits for trainer Gary Contessa and owner I.O.U. Atonn Stable in the $75,000 Ashley T. Cole Handicap at 1 1/8 miles for New York-breds. Brave One and jockey Norberto Arroyo got the distance in a time of 1:48.89 and drew off to a 2-length win over No Bad Habits. Whitmore's Conn finished a nose behind No Bad Habits for third, and it was another 1 1/4 lengths back to favored John Paul Too in fourth.