07/27/2005 11:00PM

Jim Dandy a new ball game

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Flower Alley, with Angel Cordero Jr. riding, trains Tuesday at Saratoga for his Jim Dandy start.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - With Afleet Alex now sidelined indefinitely, the opportunity for second-tier 3-year-olds to have a productive summer now exists. Six such 3-year-olds are entered in Saturday's $500,000 at Saratoga with an eye toward the $1 million Travers on Aug. 27.

Flower Alley, the only graded stakes winner in the Jim Dandy, and Andromeda's Hero, runner-up to Afleet Alex in the Belmont, head the sextet entered in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, run at 1 1/8 miles. As of Thursday, none of the major participants was expected to defect to the $1 million Haskell, where Afleet Alex had been pointed. A major reason for that is the Jim Dandy is now four weeks out from the Travers, as opposed to three.

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Flower Alley, certainly prefers that extra week. Pletcher has won three of the last five runnings of the Jim Dandy only to have those horses bomb in the Travers.

Flower Alley, a son of Distorted Humor, was on an accelerated program to get to the Kentucky Derby after he won the Grade 2 Lane's End in his third career start. After running second - eighth lengths behind Afleet Alex - in the Arkansas Derby, Flower Alley finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby, a race that Pletcher believes is better than it looks on paper.

After a freshening, Flower Alley ran a solid second behind Roman Ruler in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes, a race in which Flower Alley raced very close to a strong early pace.

"The Dwyer was a pretty good race. Those two horses separated themselves pretty clearly from the rest of the field," Pletcher said. "To me, that race is arguably good enough to win a race like the Jim Dandy if he improves a little bit.

I think he's probably a better mile-and-an-eighth horse, and a better two-turn horse than he is a one-turn mile-and-a-sixteenth. I think with a little bit of improvement and some recency, he should be sitting on a big race."

Flower Alley, the 121-pound highweight, will break from post 2 under John Velazquez.

Andromeda's Hero finished three-quarters of a length behind Flower Alley in the Arkansas Derby and a nose in front of him in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Nick Zito skipped the Preakness and pointed Andromeda's Hero to the Belmont, where he finished seven lengths behind Afleet Alex and 6 3/4 lengths ahead of the rest of the field. Zito said he preferred keeping Andromeda's Hero at Saratoga, where he has trained, as opposed to running in the Haskell.

"He's really come on strong," Zito said. "His second place in the Belmont was terrific. A lot of people forget he beat the third horse seven lengths. Alex was the show and he was the next-best thing."

Zito will also send out Noble Causeway, who was eliminated early in the Kentucky Derby and had a wide trip in the Preakness. Noble Causeway developed rapidly in south Florida, with two wins and a second-place finish in the Florida Derby.

Jerry Bailey, a four-time Jim Dandy winner, rides Noble Causeway.

Last year, Purge won the Peter Pan, finished last in the Belmont, and bounced back to win the Jim Dandy. This year, Reverberate ran a bang-up second in the Peter Pan, and finished second-to-last in the Belmont.

Reverberate returns in the Jim Dandy, having trained very well, according to trainer Sal Russo. Reverberate will race with patches to protect quarter cracks on both front feet, but Russo does not see that as an issue.

"All I know is I feel a lot better about him," Russo said, compared with his feelings entering the Belmont Stakes. "I've been able to train him, and he's doing well."

Reverberate could hook up early with Mr. Congeniality, who set the pace in the Dwyer. King of Jazz, second in the Queen's Plate at Woodbine, rounds out the field.

The Jim Dandy and the Grade 1 Diana Stakes will be televised live on ESPN, along with the Washington Park Handicap from Arlington Park in a 90-minute telecast that begins at 4 p.m. Eastern.