07/30/2005 12:00AM

Flower Alley runs a dandy

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Flower Alley wins the Jim Dandy by 5 1/4 lengths, taking a giant stride towards the Travers.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Todd Pletcher thought Flower Alley ran well enough in the Kentucky Derby to have run him back in either the Preakness or Belmont Stakes. But knowing his horse was playing catch-up to the top 3-year-olds, Pletcher thought it best to skip the remaining two classics and point for a summer campaign.

As with most of his moves throughout his career, this one appears to be working out fine.

Flower Alley took a giant step toward the $1 million Travers on Aug. 27 by running away to a 5 1/4-length victory in Saturday's Grade 2, $500,000 before 29,291 at Saratoga. Reverberate finished second, 6 1/2 lengths ahead of Andromeda's Hero. King of Jazz and Mr. Congeniality were basically eased.

Noble Causeway was scratched at the gate by jockey Jerry Bailey and New York Racing Association chief examining veterinarian Anthony Verderosa. Bailey told Verderosa that Noble Causeway did not warm up well.

Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez anticipated working out a stalking trip on Flower Alley. But Reverberate didn't break well, and Richard Migliore was riding conservatively on Mr. Congeniality out of the gate.

Thus, Velazquez put Flower Alley into the race and he dueled on the inside of Mr. Congeniality through modest fractions of 23.86 seconds and 47.38 for the opening half-mile. Entering the far turn, Flower Alley put away Mr. Congeniality, and repelled a challenge from King of Jazz and Reverberate to pull away by midstretch. Though he ducked in from Velazquez's right-handed whip, Flower Alley won easily.

"He's still getting there," said Pletcher, who won this race for the fourth time in six years. "When he made the lead, he kind of let up a little bit. When Johnny hit him right-handed he ducked over on his left lead. Right now, he's doing most of this on natural talent."

Flower Alley, a son of Distorted Humor owned by Eugene Melnyk, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.50 and returned $3 as the favorite.

Two of Pletcher's three previous Jim Dandy winners - Strong Hope and Purge - failed to duplicate that performance in the Travers. Pletcher feels that the extra week - the Jim Dandy formerly was run three weeks out from the Travers - and the lack of a standout 3-year-old should make Flower Alley formidable in the Travers.

"Obviously, he's one of the few top ones around," Pletcher said. "You take a horse like Afleet Alex out of the equation, it's kind of a wide-open race."