05/17/2010 11:00PM

New Madrid tries unusual Belmont path

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Barbara D. Livingston
New Madrid (left) will try to earn a shot at Belmont Stakes by running well in a turf allowance on Thursday.

A first-level allowance race scheduled for the turf 16 days before the Belmont Stakes isn't usually where one might find a prospective candidate for the third leg of racing's Triple Crown. But on Thursday, the connections of New Madrid are using such a race as a prep for a possible start in the $1 million Belmont on June 5.

The trainer of New Madrid is Tim Ice, who one year ago trained the lightly raced Summer Bird to an upset victory in the Belmont. The owner of New Madrid is John Ed Anthony, who 30 years ago won the Belmont with Temperence Hill at odds of 53-1.

Temperence Hill, trained by Joe Cantey, finished third in an allowance race on turf seven days before upsetting Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Risk and Preakness winner Codex in the Belmont. Anthony raced under the name Loblolly Stables then. He runs under the moniker Shortleaf Stables now.

"Temperence Hill was a big, ol' lazy colt and Joe Cantey was trying to wake him up a bit and put him on the grass,'' Anthony said. "The results were useful.''

The Belmont was Temperence Hill's third start in 13 days, ninth race at age 3, and 12th overall. New Madrid, a son of Rock Hard Ten, will be making just his fifth start on Thursday. After beginning his career with D. Wayne Lukas and running sixth in a maiden race at Churchill Downs, New Madrid was transferred to Ice by Anthony.

In his first start for Ice, New Madrid finished second to Endorsement in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on Feb. 20. New Madrid cleared the maiden ranks with a 1 1/4-length victory in a March 13 race at Oaklawn.

In the Arkansas Derby, New Madrid finished a well-beaten sixth behind winner Line of David. Anthony said the finishing position wasn't as disappointing as the way New Madrid was "ducking in and ducking out'' through the stretch.

In an effort to correct that, Ice will equip New Madrid with blinkers for the first time on Thursday. When Summer Bird won the Belmont, he wore blinkers for the first time.

Anthony said New Madrid doesn't necessarily have to win on Thursday to try the Belmont.

"As long as he puts in a relatively good performance,'' Anthony said. "A lot of things can happen between a mile and an eighth and a mile and a half.''

On turf, this is no easy spot for New Madrid. Elusive Beat comes off a maiden win over Keeneland's Polytrack surface after getting beat one length in his turf debut on Feb. 11 at Gulfstream Both have those races produced three next-out winners.

Syo Defenceman has two wins and two seconds on turf and makes his first start for new owner Salvatore Russo and trainer Jeff Odintz.

If the race is moved to the dirt - and it did rain Tuesday - Ya Gotta Have Soul could be the main challenger for New Madrid.

Velazquez gets mount on Fly Down

John Velazquez rides New Madrid on Thursday. But he won't be riding him in the Belmont should the colt make it to the race.

On Tuesday, trainer Nick Zito confirmed that Velazquez would ride Fly Down in the Belmont. Coming off a decisive six-length victory in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont on May 8, Fly Down figures to be among the top three betting choices in the Belmont along with stablemate Ice Box, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, and First Dude, the Preakness runner-up.

"Belmont Park, John Velazquez, Nick Zito, we've had good luck together,'' said Zito, who trains Fly Down for owner Richard Pell. "Plus, I've known Johnny since he was 18. I had a lot of good jockeys wanting to ride this horse, but I went with the New York jockey.''

Velazquez, who won the 2007 Belmont on Rags to Riches, rode Fly Down to a third-place finish in his debut last October at Belmont.

Fly Down had been ridden by Jose Lezcano in the Dwyer. Lezcano is the regular rider of Ice Box. Lezcano was aboard for Ice Box's win in the Florida Derby and retains the mount in the Belmont.

Zito has won the Belmont twice, with Birdstone in 2004 and Da' Tara in 2008.