07/04/2005 12:00AM

Looks like his old self

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Roman Ruler and Jerry Bailey take the Dwyer Stakes by a half-length over Flower Alley.

ELMONT, N.Y. - At the beginning of 2005, Roman Ruler was considered one of the top 3-year-olds in the country. Judging by Monday's $150,000 at Belmont Park, there is still time for Roman Ruler to live up to that billing.

The first six months of his 3-year-old season a waste, Roman Ruler began making up for lost time with a professional half-length victory over Flower Alley in the Grade 2 Dwyer before a July Fourth crowd of 8,833 at Belmont Park.

Proud Accolade, last year's Champagne winner, finished third, followed by Mr. Congeniality, Middle Earth, and Biloxi Palace.

Roman Ruler, a multiple graded stakes winner at 2, was plagued by foot problems earlier this year, forcing him off the Triple Crown trail. He finished last in his only start, the Grade 3 San Felipe in March.

After getting him going again in Southern California, trainer Bob Baffert shipped Roman Ruler east, where the tracks are considered kinder to horses with foot problems. After the race, his connections said Roman Ruler would remain in New York.

Under Jerry Bailey, Roman Ruler was last through the first three-quarters of a mile, but never more than 2 1/2 lengths off the pace. Mr. Congeniality, Middle Earth, and Biloxi Palace battled through three-quarters in 1:09.53.

Around the turn, Bailey swung Roman Ruler four wide and just outside of favored Flower Alley, who appeared to have plenty left beneath John Velazquez. Roman Ruler made the lead in upper stretch, and outfinished Flower Alley for the win. Roman Ruler covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.83 and returned $6.40 as the second choice.

"I knew it was his first time out in a while, I knew it was a mile and a sixteenth, I wasn't going to be in a big hurry down the backside,'' Bailey said. "To be honest with you, it was an honest enough pace; being bottled up was fine. A short field, I knew I would get out eventually.''

Roman Ruler could make his next start in either the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 30 or the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 7. In the Haskell, he would face Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex.

"Afleet Alex is a spectacular horse and if we're right and we're ready we would love to take him on,'' said David Shimmon, one of two principals in Fog City Stable, the owner of Roman Ruler. "But he's tremendous and he's proven himself as being tremendous, and hopefully, over the next couple of races, we can prove ourselves as being tremendous.''