02/03/2005 12:00AM

'Grocer' will need new rider

Adam coglianese/NYRA
John Velazquez won't be aboard Galloping Grocer in the Whirlaway.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Galloping Grocer will need a new rider when he makes his 3-year-old debut in next Saturday's Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct.

John Velazquez, who rode the New York-bred gelding in all four of his starts at 2, will be at Fair Grounds on Feb. 12 to ride four horses for trainer Todd Pletcher, including the promising 3-year-old Harlington in the Risen Star Stakes.

Angel Cordero Jr., Velazquez's agent, said he had intended for Velazquez to ride Galloping Grocer here that day and was disappointed he couldn't keep the commitment.

"It's more a business decision than anything else," Cordero said from south Florida. "I told [owner Bob] Rosenthal that I'm stuck; I can't afford to lose a barn with 150 horses for one single race. I'm disappointed because Johnny and myself really believe the horse is one of the top four horses for the [Kentucky] Derby."

Velazquez is also committed to ride Afleet Alex in his two preps leading up to the Kentucky Derby. But the dates of those races - the Rebel on March 19 and the Arkansas Derby on April 16 - didn't conflict with the dates Galloping Grocer would run.

Rosenthal said that he and trainer Dominick Schettino would explore their options for a rider before announcing a decision. Rosenthal said he would consider out-of-town riders as well as locals. Aaron Gryder worked Galloping Grocer last weekend.

"Obviously, this is a surprise and a big disappointment," Rosenthal said. "We had a commitment with them. We think the world of Johnny and Angel, but they had to back out of it. It was more in their control than our control."

Galloping Grocer won his first three starts - including two New York-bred stakes - by more than 33 lengths. He finished his 2-year-old year with a neck loss in the Remsen Stakes to Rockport Harbor, an undefeated horse who is among the winter-book favorites for the Derby.

No penalty for Shuman in positives

Trainer Mark Shuman will not face any penalties despite the fact that two of his horses tested positive for the banned tranquilizer fluphenazine during last summer's Saratoga meet. The stewards said that records from Shuman's veterinarian showed that the medication was given at least 30 days out. The medication is viewed as one that can be given up to seven days out.

The medication was found in Clay's Rocket, who won the second race on Aug. 8, and Kalookan Lady, who finished fourth in the fifth race on Aug. 9. Those horses were disqualified and unplaced in the order of finish.

The rule banning fluphenazine has been adopted as an emergency rule four times since Oct. 30, 2003. Horse owner Michael Gill is suing the New York State Racing and Wagering Board over this rule, challenging its constitutionality.

Fernandez starts 10-day suspension

Jockey Victor Fernandez was to begin serving a 10-day suspension on Friday for "gross careless riding" in Wednesday's fourth race here. The penalty was reduced from 15 days after Fernandez waived his right of appeal.

Fernandez was suspended for his ride on Rather Bee Good, who interfered with Princess Jasmine and Little Miss Amanda in the stretch. Rather Bee Good was disqualified from third and placed fourth.

* Diligent Gambler, whose nine wins equaled the most of any horse in 2004, will make his 4-year-old debut in Saturday's seventh race. After running exclusively in claiming events last year, Diligent Gambler has landed in a tough entry-level allowance race. Moreover, he will break from post 11 in the 12-horse field.