08/15/2001 11:00PM

Goldberg returns with Navesink


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - It was way back in March, Frank Gabriel Jr. recalls, that he got a phone call from an old buddy in New Jersey.

"Alzie wanted to know if his horse was an early nominee" to the Secretariat Stakes, said Gabriel, Arlington's vice president for racing.

Yes, Navesink was eligible to the Grade 1 Secretariat. And yes, Alzie will be here Saturday to saddle the colt as a major contender in North America's definitive midsummer race for 3-year-old turf horses.

Alzie is what some longtime friends call Alan Goldberg, the New Jersey-based trainer who a decade ago was making an impact nationally, traveling the country with Safely Kept, the brilliant filly sprinter. Now 52 and content to remain primarily in the East, Goldberg will be making his first trip to Arlington Park since Safely Kept won the 1991 Chicago Breeders' Cup.

"If you're going to run for some money, you've got to run [at Arlington], don't you?" Goldberg said earlier this week.

Indeed, Navesink (pronounced NAV-uh-sink) has earned a chance at the $400,000 purse of the Secretariat. After Navesink easily won his debut in November at Laurel Park, Goldberg took him to Florida for the winter. But Navesink, a Virginia-bred son of the noted grass sire Irish River, did not train particularly well.

"It was like he had cancer or something," said Goldberg. "So I brought him home [to Goldberg's New Jersey farm] from Hialeah after about a month."

After regrouping at home, Navesink returned to the races with an impressive victory at Belmont in a May 9 entry-level turf allowance, confirming the optimism that Goldberg had been expressing to Gabriel and others.

Back home at Monmouth Park, Navesink, a $140,000 yearling purchase by Goldberg's longtime client Jayeff B Stable, easily won a second-level allowance on June 1. Fifteen days later, the colt was narrowly beaten as the favorite in the Hill Prince at Belmont.

"I was kind of surprised he got beat that day, because I thought he was that good," said Goldberg. "Hey, he's a pretty good horse."

Last month, Navesink whipped a solid field in the Grade 3 Kent Breeders' Cup at Delaware Park, moving his career record to 4 for 5, all on grass. Now comes the toughest test of his career, but Goldberg believes he is ready as ever.

"He acts like he can run all day," he said. "I don't have a clue what we'll do next with him; maybe run him against older horses at 1 3/8 miles. First, let's see how he does Saturday."

If he can defeat the likes of Sharp Performance, Package Store, Mizzen Mast, and Startac in the Secretariat, there should be little doubt that Navesink will be considered one of the top turf runners in North America, 3-year-old or otherwise. As Alzie might say, the race is that good.