08/27/2005 12:00AM

Flower Alley gives Pletcher first Travers

Flower Alley and jockey John Velazquez cross the wire first in the Grade 1 Travers, 2 1/2 lengths in front of second-place finisher Bellamy Road.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Todd Pletcher can now cross "Winning the Travers" off his Things To Do List.

Flower Alley validated his powerful Jim Dandy performance last month by overtaking Bellamy Road in upper stretch and edging clear to a 2 1/2-length victory in the $1 million on Saturday at Saratoga before a crowd of 42,841.

Bellamy Road, making his first start in 112 days, held second by 2 3/4 lengths over Roman Ruler, who was a slight 2-1 favorite. He was followed in the order of finish by Don't Get Mad, Andromeda's Hero, Reverberate, and Chekhov, who was eased.

Flower Alley became the sixth horse to win the Jim Dandy and the Travers in the same year. Arts and Letters, Willow Hour, Carr de Naskra, Thunder Rumble, and Medaglia d'Oro were the others.

Flower Alley gave Pletcher his first Travers victory in five tries. The last two years, Pletcher came to the Travers with horses coming off victories in the Jim Dandy. But neither Strong Hope (2003) nor Purge (2004) could get the job done.

"It's huge," Pletcher said of the Travers victory. "It ranks right up there with the two Breeders' Cup wins last year."

Pletcher won the Distaff with Ashado and the Sprint with Speightstown in 2004.

Flower Alley, who had finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby, came into the Travers in peak form. After skipping the Preakness and Belmont, he ran second in the Dwyer and won the Jim Dandy by 5 1/4 emphatic lengths.

The Travers set up as expected with Bellamy Road, under Javier Castellano, getting out to an early lead. He set fractions of 23.54 seconds, 47.43, and 1:10.92 while John Velazquez had Flower Alley in second, only a couple of lengths off the pace.

Velazquez moved Flower Alley right off Bellamy Road's flank at the six-furlong marker, prompting Castellano to open Bellamy Road up some. Velazquez made his second move around the turn, and assumed the lead inside the three-sixteenths pole. Despite a valiant effort from Bellamy Road, Flower Alley drew clear late. Flower Alley, a son of Distorted Humor owned by Eugene Melnyk, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.76 and returned $8 as the third betting choice.

"He's an awesome horse," Velazquez said. "I didn't want to be head and head with [Bellamy Road] early, but I wanted to put a little pressure on him. Once I got to the backside, I didn't want to let him go easily down the backstretch. Once I didn't see anyone coming to me down the backside I said, 'Let's go after him.' "

Said Pletcher: "The key was Johnny making all the right moves. I thought at the three-quarter pole when he decided to put a little pressure on him that was the difference."

Despite his defeat, Bellamy Road ran a terrific race. He had not run since finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby, a race in which he suffered an injury.

"He ran an unbelievable race," Zito said. "He hasn't run in four months. Javier did a great job. I salute the winner, but I also salute Bellamy Road. What a great horse I've got. He just came up a tad short."

* The all-stakes pick four returned $31.25 for $1. The combination of 6-2-3-7 consisted of Leroidesanimaux ($3.40), First Samurai ($6.10), Lost in the Fog ($2.60), and Flower Alley ($8). The pool was $1,659,766.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch