05/22/2005 11:00PM

No Triple Crown this Belmont

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BALTIMORE - Afleet Alex had yet to have his picture taken following his victory in Saturday's Preakness Stakes when a woman on the third floor of Pimlico's grandstand shouted, "Who needs two Belmont tickets?"

For only the third time in the last nine years, a Triple Crown will not be at stake when Belmont Park hosts the Belmont Stakes on June 11. Afleet Alex saw to that by avenging his third-place

finish behind Giacomo in the Kentucky Derby with a most convincing Preakness score.

During the last eight years, the Belmont Park signature event has grown significantly in popularity. In 1997, when Silver Charm kicked off this recent run of Triple Crown hopefuls, a crowd of 70,682 was on hand. Last year, when the popular Smarty Jones sought to make history, a record crowd of 120,139 attended the Belmont, the third straight year the race drew more than 100,000 spectators.

New York Racing Association officials are hoping to be able to promote a rubber match between Giacomo and Afleet Alex in the Belmont. Failing that scenario, NYRA officials are hopeful that the acrobatic manner in which Afleet Alex won the Preakness - overcoming a stumbling incident at the top of the stretch - will pique peoples' interest in the race.

Bill Nader, NYRA's senior vice-president, said that this year's Belmont should be compared to the 2001 running when 73,857 showed up to watch Derby winner Monarchos and Preakness winner Point Given meet.

"That's the barometer to go by for this year's Belmont," Nader said. "The way Afleet Alex won with the athleticism and drama, I think it sets it up pretty good. It's also East Coast versus West Coast. With the recent success of the Belmont, people have come to the conclusion that the Belmont Stakes is not just a race, it's a complete day of outstanding competition, a full day of great entertainment. If we're able to deliver the Derby winner and the Preakness winner then I think we're in good shape."

NYRA announced last week that all of its reserved seats - approximately 30,000 - have been sold, a good sign considering that prices for those seats were more than doubled since last year.

Bailes won't blame Dominguez

Trainer Robert Bailes said Monday that Ramon Dominguez would stay on Preakness runner-up Scrappy T for whatever his next race may be. Bailes said the Belmont Stakes is one of several options he and owner Marshall Dowell would consider for Scrappy T's next start.

"We're going to stick with Ramon," Bailes said Monday. "I've been switching way too much. I switched jockeys more on this horse than all 20 of mine that ran throughout the year."

In his last four starts, Scrappy T has been ridden by Dominguez, Rafael Bejarano, and Alan Garcia. Luis Diaz rode Scrappy T in all five starts as a 2-year-old.

Dominguez whacked Scrappy T extremely hard left-handed turning for home, and the gelding veered out sharply, clipping heels with Afleet Alex and forcing that horse to stumble badly. Dominguez said that he hit Scrappy T because the horse was spooking from the crowd noise.

"I told Ramon I'll never second-guess him, what he did," Bailes said. "It's horse racing; I've been in it long enough. Unfortunately, things happen at the wrong time. He rode a heck of a race."

Scrappy T shipped to Delaware Park on Sunday morning. Bailes said Monday that the horse came out of the race in good order. In addition to the Belmont, Bailes is also considering trying Scrappy T on the turf.

Zito looks to regroup

Three weeks ago, Nick Zito appeared to have one of the strongest hands any trainer has ever

brought to the Triple Crown series. Unfortunately, the cards did not fall Zito's way.

After a poor showing with five horses in the Kentucky, things did not go much better for Zito in Saturday's Preakness. Though Sun King finished fourth - an improvement upon his 15th-place finish in the Derby - he was beaten 10 3/4 lengths. Noble Causeway, who finished 14th in the Derby, ran sixth in the Preakness, beaten 18 1/2 lengths. High Fly, who finished 10th in the Derby, ran 10th again, beaten 29 lengths in the Preakness.

Zito said Noble Causeway displaced his palate and is a candidate to undergo a myectomy later this week. Zito said High Fly may have been tired from a winter campaign that saw him run three nine-furlong races at Gulfstream before the Derby. Zito said Sun King and High Fly would be freshened for summer campaigns.

"That's racing," Zito said. "Sometimes you're in this position. You can't win everything.

Zito will still be represented in the Belmont with Andromeda's Hero, who finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby. Last year, Zito won the Belmont with Birdstone, who also finished eighth in the Derby and skipped the Preakness. Zito might also run Pinpoint, who won Saturday's Sir Barton Stakes.

Zito added that Bellamy Road, the beaten Derby favorite, will have his injured splint bone "fired" this week and could return to training in five or six weeks. Zito is hoping to have him ready for the Saratoga meet and races such as the Jim Dandy and Travers.

All of Zito's 3-year-olds were shipped to Saratoga on Sunday.