12/31/2004 12:00AM

Galloping Grocer back in training

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
John Velazquez will retain the mount on Galloping Grocer for now, his trainer said.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Galloping Grocer, the talented New York-bred gelding with designs on the Kentucky Derby, recently resumed serious training as he gears up for his 3-year-old campaign. Galloping Grocer is scheduled to make his seasonal debut in the Whirlaway Stakes here on Feb. 12.

After getting a month off following a neck loss to the undefeated Rockport Harbor in the Remsen, Galloping Grocer resumed galloping on Monday. Trainer Dominick Schettino said he plans to get three workouts into Galloping Grocer before the Whirlaway.

Galloping Grocer, a New York-bred son of A. P Jet, won his first three starts - all against restricted company - by a combined 31 3/4 lengths. In the Remsen, Galloping Grocer chased Rockport Harbor around the track, switched to his wrong lead, and nearly pulled up when hit by the whip, before coming on again under a vigorous hand ride to fall short by a neck.

Schettino said Galloping Grocer walked and jogged for a month after the Remsen.

"I gave him a total break from everything," Schettino said. "He's filled out, put a lot of weight on. He's happy."

Schettino said that the distance Galloping Grocer gallops every morning depends on how he's acting.

"If he's too aggressive I'll do a little more with him, just to take the edge off him," Schettino said.

John Velazquez rode Galloping Grocer in all four of his starts in 2004. Though Velazquez has committed to ride Afleet Alex through the Derby prep season, Schettino said he has not searched for a new rider. The races that Schettino has picked out for Galloping Grocer - the Whirlaway, the Fountain of Youth on March 5, and the Wood Memorial on April 9 - do not conflict with the races trainer Tim Ritchey has chosen for Afleet Alex, so Velazquez would be able to ride both horses until the Derby if they both get that far.

Schettino said he has not discussed the rider situation with owner Bob Rosenthal, but indicated he would like to keep Velazquez on the horse.

"He knows the horse," Schettino said. "Eventually I'm going to want somebody to stay with him."

Bailes off to good start

With Galloping Grocer not even nominated to Saturday's Count Fleet Stakes, New York's first stakes race of the year for 3-year-olds will likely have a big field. Sixteen of the 19 nominees are under consideration for the mile and 70-yard race, which kicked off Smarty Jones's run to the Kentucky Derby last year.

One of the more intriguing horses in the Count Fleet is Scrappy T, a gelded son of Fit to Fight who has a win and four seconds from five starts. Scrappy T is the main reason that Maryland-based trainer Robert Bailes has a 10-horse contingent in New York this winter.

With 1 win and 3 seconds from his first 4 starters, Bailes has already piqued the interest of New York bettors and trainers. His winner, the first-time starter Phyllis Sassy Girl, returned $54.50 and was claimed.

Scrappy T, meanwhile, was beaten a neck in his inner-track debut on Dec. 15, running fast early fractions before holding for second in a three-horse photo with winner Tani Maru and Father Weist.

Scrappy T had not shown much speed prior to his career debut and rallied from well back in that Sept. 11 race to be second. He has since shown nothing but speed.

"It's like a light just turned on in his head and now we can't slow him up," Bailes said. "He's still learning. I don't think I've gotten to the bottom of him yet."

Luis Diaz has ridden Scrappy T in his first five starts, but Bailes plans to switch to Alan Garcia for the Count Fleet. Garcia has been getting on Scrappy T in the mornings, trying to teach him to relax. On Friday, Garcia worked Scrappy T four furlongs in 47.24 seconds over Belmont's training track, the second-fastest of 118 works at the distance.

Among those considered definite for the Count Fleet are Benjamin Baby, Byanosejoe, Father Weist, Interline, Killenaule, Lakeville Rush, Lucky Alarm, Qualified Opinion, and Tani Maru. Paraneck Stables will run either Daddy Joe or Pavo. Other possible starters include Diamond Wildcat, Lenny, and We Love Rocky.

Lord Langfuhr takes Alex Robb

Lord Langfuhr, who had one horse beat with three furlongs to go, rallied powerfully from the quarter pole home to take the $84,000 Alex M. Robb Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths under Jorge Chavez.

Rogue Agent, who set the pace while being chased by Halo Malone, held second by a neck over that rival.

It was the third straight victory for Lord Langfuhr, a son of Langfuhr owned by Christine Brennan and Howard Whitbred and trained by Jimmy Jerkens. Lord Langfuhr covered the 1 1/16 miles over a fast inner track in 1:44.67 and returned $6.30 as the favorite.

Pletcher, Velazquez tops in 2004

Despite losing with his last nine starters, Todd Pletcher easily finished as the leading trainer in New York in 2004 with 129 winners from 532 starters. Richard Dutrow Jr. finished second with 123 winners from 444 starters. Bruce Levine (80), Gary Contessa (69), and Scott Lake (66) rounded out the top five.

John Velazquez led all New York riders with 228 wins. Javier Castellano (199), Edgar Prado (180), Pablo Fragoso (160), and Shaun Bridgmohan (147) complete the top five.

* Jockey Julian Pimentel was fined $500 by the stewards for misuse of the whip. According to the stewards, Pimentel cracked his mount, Bright Weekend, on top of the head with his whip following Thursday's fourth race. The stewards said Bright Weekend apparently tossed her head into Pimentel's face walking back to the saddling area.