05/26/2007 12:00AM

Gomez to ride Hard Spun in Belmont


All week, the connections of Hard Spun said little about their jockey situation, but that spoke volumes.

It was becoming increasingly clear that jockey Mario Pino was going to be replaced for the Belmont Stakes following his questionable ride in the Preakness Stakes. On Saturday, Garrett Gomez was confirmed as Pino's replacement by Larry Jones, who trains Hard Spun.

With Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Preakness winner Curlin, and Hard Spun all currently pointing for the $1 million Belmont on June 9, the field is shaping up as a small one. And it was reduced further Saturday when trainer Doug O'Neill said Great Hunter, who finished 13th in the Derby, was out of the Belmont because of a bone chip in his right front ankle.

Exactly two weeks prior to the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the final leg of the Triple Crown, 10 horses were still under consideration for the race, but only a handful seem certain to run. In addition to the Triple Crown's big three, the only others confirmed to face them at this point are Imawildandcrazyguy, Slew's Tizzy, and Tiago.

Hard Spun was second in the Derby, then finished third in the Preakness after moving into the teeth of a hot pace nearing the far turn. With Kentucky Oaks winner Rags to Riches unlikely to face the boys in the Belmont, that gave Gomez the chance to move to Hard Spun.

"Garrett Gomez will be on him," Jones said Saturday from Delaware Park.

"The Hard Spun team," Jones said, referring to himself and owner Richard Porter, "got their heads together and decided to make a change."

Hard Spun will train at Delaware Park this week, then will be sent by van to Belmont Park next Saturday or Sunday. Jones said Hard Spun was scheduled to have his lone work between the Preakness and Belmont at Belmont Park on Monday, June 4.

Great Hunter, who won the Robert Lewis Stakes earlier this year at Santa Anita, was kept out of the Preakness in order to come into the Belmont fresh. He worked Thursday at Hollywood Park, but O'Neill said he subsequently developed filling in the right front ankle and X-rays revealed the chip. Great Hunter was scheduled to undergo surgery Saturday.

"He walked sound, he jogged sound, but the ankle has a filling," O'Neill said from his barn at Hollywood Park. "The right thing to do is pluck that thing out."

O'Neill said he could not be certain Great Hunter was injured in the work.

"You never know if something was brewing there and the work brought it out," he said.

Great Hunter will be off for 90 days, then will start tack walking, O'Neill said.

Slew's Tizzy works in Lexington

Slew's Tizzy, winner of the Lexington Stakes and Lone Star Derby in his last two starts, prepped for his toughest assignment to date when working six furlongs Saturday at the Thoroughbred training center in Lexington, Ky.

Trainer Greg Fox was pleased with the workout, which was timed in 1:16.80 over a fast track.

"It was the same type of work that has gotten us to this point," Fox said. "He steadily increased the pace from the six-furlong pole to the wire. The main thing is he's learning how to relax and finish. Today was probably his best work. It was perfect."

With regular rider Alejandro Contreras aboard, Slew's Tizzy went his final quarter in 24.60 seconds and final furlong in 12.20 seconds, according to Fox.

Slew's Tizzy will be attempting to crash the upper echelon of the 3-year-old division when he makes his next start in the Belmont Stakes. Fox, who turned to training 2 1/2 years ago after working for more than 15 years as a licensed racetrack veterinarian, said the Tiznow colt probably would have a similar workout next Saturday before being flown to New York on Tuesday.

Slew's Tizzy was bred and is owned by Joe LaCombe, whose most notable feat in racing was as owner of Favorite Trick, the 1997 Horse of the Year.

Slew's Tizzy was not even on the Triple Crown radar until he posted a 3 1/2-length victory in the April 21 Lexington at Keeneland at 40-1, the longest price in a field of nine. Confirming that race was no fluke, the colt followed with a 1 3/4-length triumph as the lukewarm favorite in the May 12 Lone Star Derby at Lone Star Park.

Fox got confirmation Friday that John Velazquez will ride Slew's Tizzy, a colt with excellent tactical speed.

Asked about strategy for the Belmont, Fox said: "I haven't really thought about tactics yet. My main goal is continuing the cumulative fitness the horse has achieved over a period of time and to continue to insure that he's as healthy and sound as he is today - and has been. Once the race comes out on paper, we'll take a more careful look at strategy."

- additional reporting by Marty McGee