06/06/2007 11:00PM

Jazil winless since Belmont score


ELMONT, N.Y. – As Thoroughbred racing gets set to crown a new Belmont Stakes winner on Saturday, last year’s Belmont victor, Jazil, is still seeking a return to form.

Jazil has raced only three times since winning last year’s Belmont. A bruised a hind cannon bone forced him to the shelf until January, when he finished second, beaten 2 1/4 lengths in a second-level allowance by Take the Bluff over Aqueduct’s inner track.

Jazil finished second at the same condition at Gulfstream, beaten 9 1/2 lengths by Corinthian, who went on to win two graded stakes, including the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin tried Jazil on the turf, but he finished last of 12 in the Grade 3 Elkhorn, run over a soft Keeneland course.

“That first race was a very good race, his second race was a good race,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously, a Grade 1 horse beat him in Corinthian. We wanted to try the turf because of the distance factor. There are more mile-and-a-quarter to mile-and-a-half races on the turf than there are on the dirt. He obviously didn’t like it soft and green so we’ll just stay away from it.”

Jazil has worked one time since the Elkhorn, a half-mile breeze in 47.89 seconds at Belmont. McLaughlin said the horse was scheduled to work again this weekend. McLaughlin said that Jazil could be a back-up to Invasor if the defending Horse of the Year does not make it to the Grade 1 Suburban Handicap here on June 30. The Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup the same day is also possible for Jazil.

Solid field in Birdstone

A.P. Arrow and Hesanoldsalt, who have been chasing the likes of Grade?1 winners Invasor and Corinthian this year, appear to have the spotlight to themselves in Saturday’s $100,000 Birdstone, an overnight stakes run at 1 1/8 miles on the main track.

A.P. Arrow, trained by Todd Pletcher, finished a head behind Hesanoldsalt in the Grade?1 Donn Handicap when both were beaten by Invasor. A.P. Arrow finished a half-length behind Hesanoldsalt when both were beaten by Corinthian in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

A.P. Arrow did come back to win the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap, though Pletcher believes he can run better than he did that day.

“I think he’s one of those horses who’s on the verge of doing something big,” said Pletcher, who wants to run A.P. Arrow in the Hollywood Gold Cup. “He won the Skip Away, but there’s still room for a little bit of improvement there.”

Hesanoldsalt, trained by Nick Zito, ran a huge race in the William Donald Schaefer Handicap, losing by a head to Flashy Bull.

Completing the Birdstone field are Papi Chullo, who is 2 for 2 at Belmont; Evening Attire, the 2001 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner; Naughty New Yorker; and Frost Giant.

Meribel opts for Foresta

Earlier in the week, trainer Christophe Clement was talking about taking on the likes of Wait a While and My Typhoon in the Grade?2 Just a Game with Meribel. But in the end, he decided to run her in Saturday’s $80,000 Foresta Stakes for fillies and mares who have yet to win an open stakes on turf. A field of 11 was entered for the 1 1/16-mile turf race.

Meribel, who won the Grade 3 Valley View on Polytrack, is coming off a win in the restricted Steal a Kiss Stakes over this course on May 17.

“It’s obviously an easier race on paper, [and] with the conditions of the Just a Game I didn’t want to give any weight away,” Clement said.

Though Meribel went 4 for 10 last year, Clement feels she has the potential to be even better this y ear.

“She’s a stronger horse, and mentally as she got older she seems to be more mature to me,” Clement said.

Her major competition should come from Criminologist, A True Pussycat, and Fantastic Shirl.

Million-dollar pools guaranteed

Two $1 million-guaranteed pools highlight the wagering menu on Saturday’s Belmont Stakes card.

There will be a $1 million pool offered on the pick six that begins with race 6, the True North Handicap, and concludes with the Belmont Stakes. All six races are graded stakes.

There will be a $1 million pool offered on the pick four that starts with race 8, the Woody Stephens, and concludes with the Belmont.

There will be three pick four wagers offered on the card. The other two begin with race 2 and with race 10, the Manhattan.

The Grand Slam wager, which requires bettors to pick a horse to finish first, second, or third in three races and the winner of a fourth, will begin on race 7, the Just a Game.

ESPN will air five hours of coverage from noon to 5 p.m. ABC will show the Manhattan and the Belmont during a two-hour coverage beginning at 5 p.m. The Acorn, run at 5:04, will not be broadcast by either network.

No bonus, no problem

The lack of continuity through this year’s Triple Crown, notably the defection of Street Sense from the Belmont Stakes, has renewed debate over whether a bonus would keep horses in all three races. In the 1980s, a horse who received the most points through the Triple Crown would receive a $1 million bonus, but a horse had to run in all three races to earn it.

This year, Curlin and Hard Spun are the only two horses who will run in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. But their trainers are circumspect over the allure of a bonus.

“There’s plenty of bonus just running in a race like this,” Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Curlin, said of the Belmont.

Larry Jones, the trainer of Hard Spun, said a bonus could, in theory, tempt the trainer or owner of a horse to press on even if the horse is not completely healthy

“I don’t think anybody should put a horse on the track if it’s going to be hazardous to their well-being,” Jones said.

If that sounds far-fetched, one need only remember the last time a bonus was in effect for merely participating in series of races. In 1996, Luthier Fever ran in the Pacific Classic after competing in the Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup when he was the only horse eligible for a bonus tied to those three races. He finished fifth, beaten 44 1/2 lengths and never ran again

“The Belmont still is a classic,” Jones said. “It’s going to be a very good race, even with a very small field.”

Blinkers off working for Slew’s Tizzy

When Greg Fox took over as the trainer of Slew’s Tizzy after one race last fall, he decided to put blinkers on the colt.

“I was trying to get him to focus on racing,” Fox said.

But after four races that produced just one win, Fox removed them. Without the blinkers, Slew’s Tizzy has now won two straight races while showing speed usually associated with the addition of blinkers, not the removal.

“Taking the blinkers off very much has been part of his turnaround,” Fox said. “He’s more in control.”

In his final start with blinkers, Slew’s Tizzy was part of a hot pace in the Louisiana Derby.

“He committed pace suicide,” Fox said.

* Horses drink plenty of water, especially when the weather gets warm. Tiago, though, has expensive taste. In addition to bringing a groom and an exercise rider with Tiago, trainer John Shirreffs brought along several cases of Fiji water for Tiago at the request of Ann Moss, who co-owns Tiago with her husband, Jerry. The Mosses are passionate enviromentalists.

– additional reporting by Jay Privman