05/22/2006 11:00PM

Morning Raider after third straight win


Following a trouble-plagued 3-year-old campaign last season, the Todd Pletcher-trained Morning Raider has returned with a vengeance, impressively winning his maiden over the Gulfstream Park turf and subsequently advancing through his first-level allowance condition at Keeneland last month.

A son of Giant's Causeway who was purchased for $450,000 as a yearling, Morning Raider will try for his third successive score over as many different turf courses Thursday in Belmont's feature race, a second-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles on the Widener turf course.

newfound tactical speed appears to be the key to his improved results this year, as he had left himself with too much to do late in both of his starts last season, in April and June. With regular rider John Velazquez on the mend from an injury suffered last month at Keeneland, Mike Luzzi gets the call at 124 pounds.

Among Morning Raider's many challengers in this competitive field of 12 - which includes an also-eligible and a main-track-only entrant - is , who showed improved form when switched to the turf last year and became a minor stakes winner before the year was out. The colt didn't draw well in this race - post 10 - but the near miss in his season debut points him out as a serious contender. All Trumps will go as part of the Angel Penna Jr.-trained entry, and Cornelio Velasquez gets the call at 122.

overcame a troubled trip to win his initial turf try at Aqueduct last time out. After his rider recovered from losing his irons at the start, River City Rebel picked off his rivals to win going away. With a major rider switch from apprentice Pablo Morales to Edgar Prado and a 118-pound weight assignment, the lightly raced River City Rebel should make his presence felt in a big way.

Perhaps the most intriguing entrant is Ashkal Way, an Irish-bred gelding owned by Godolphin Stables and trained by Saeed bin Suroor. Ashkal Way, who will race on Lasix for his U.S. debut, won his maiden in his lone attempt at this distance in Britain. Garrett Gomez will ride at 122.

Defer, Galantas (coupled in the wagering with All Trumps), Run the Light, Planets Aligned, Frolicking Prince, and Bright Weekend round out the field, with Redefined on the also-eligible list and Freedom Isnt Free entered for the dirt only.