06/24/2006 12:00AM

Flower Alley succeeds in 2006 debut

Bill Denvery/EQUI-PHOTO
Flower Alley wins the Salvator Mile on Saturday at Monmouth Park.

Flower Alley won his season debut, kicking clear in the final sixteenth to win the Grade 3, $159,000 Saturday in the slop at Monmouth Park.

Flower Alley ($3) won by 3 1/4 lengths in his first start since finishing second to Horse of the Year Saint Liam in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Flower Alley was timed in 1:35.87. The card was delayed by a heavy thunderstorm that rolled in about an hour before the Salvator. The track, which had been listed as fast, was immediately downgraded to sloppy.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said before the race that the Salvator was a prep for the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap on Aug. 5 at Saratoga. Flower Alley appears to be right on target.

"He handled the track real well and everything went as good as we could hope for in his first race back," said Pletcher. "We'll go to the Whitney now, if everything goes smoothly. He ran so well at Saratoga last year."

Flower Alley blossomed at Saratoga last summer, winning the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and the Grade 1 Travers.

Regular rider John Velazquez gave up his Saturday mounts at Belmont to ride Flower Alley. He positioned the colt third, behind the pace set by Gold and Roses and Cherokee's Boy, last year's Salvator winner. Velazquez also kept Flower Alley wide throughout.

"The strategy coming into the race was to stay on the outside because that was the best part of the track," Velazquez said. "I wanted to stay real close to the front, too, because the track was open when it started raining, and I didn't want to have too much ground to make up."

Velazquez asked Flower Alley to pick up his game rounding the second turn and the 4-year-old responded.

Gold and Roses, who has run primarily in New York-bred stakes, continued on gamely into the lane and an upset appeared possible until Flower Alley pulled away decisively in deep stretch.

Park Avenue Ball came on to get second with Network third. Gold and Roses was fourth with Cherokee's Boy the distant trailer.