06/05/2002 11:00PM

No upset this year for Giant Killer


ELMONT, N.Y. - A disappointed Allen Jerkens on Thursday said he discovered a bruise on Puzzlement's right front foot around 7 a.m. when Puzzlement was being readied for his morning gallop. Puzzlement exhibited soreness in his right front and there was heat in the hoof area.

"I don't know how he did it," said Jerkens, who was forced to scratch Puzzlement from the Belmont. "The vet says it looks like an abscess is getting ready to come out."

Jerkens said Puzzlement's hoof will be tubbed in hot water and a poultice will be applied to help draw out the abscess.

"Thank goodness it wasn't something like a fractured sesamoid," Jerkens said.

Puzzlement, who was 30-1 on the morning line for the Belmont, finished second to Sunday Break in the Peter Pan on May 25.

With Puzzlement out of the Belmont, Jerkens will be denied the chance of pulling off an upset. Jerkens has earned the nickname Giant Killer for the numerous times his horses have beaten big-name stars, such as Secretariat, Buckpasser, and Kelso.

Puzzlement, who is owned by New York Racing Association vice chairman Joseph Shields Jr., would have been Jerkens's fourth Belmont runner.

Jerkens's best Belmont finish came in 1994 with Best of Luck, who was fourth.

All fair in love and War Emblem

It's a good thing exercise riders Hanne Jorgensen and Mick Jenner don't bring their jobs home with them. Jorgensen and Jenner have dated for more than two years, but this year they have found themselves as rivals in the Triple Crown.

Jorgensen works for trainer Ken McPeek, whose Harlan's Holiday was defeated in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes by War Emblem, trained by Bob Baffert, for whom Jenner works. This week Jorgensen is in New York with the McPeek-trained Sarava, a longshot slated to face favored War Emblem in Saturday's Belmont.

"We don't talk about it at home," Jorgensen said. "We're competitive, but it's 'May the best horse win.' He's going to be happy for me if I win and I'm going to be happy for him if he wins. We don't talk too much about the horses at home. We don't want to compete against each other."

"Either way we come home with a stakes check," said Jenner, who is not a full-time employee of Baffert. "It's your job. You root for their horse, they root for your horse."

Jenner was aboard War Emblem Thursday morning when the lean, black colt jogged and galloped over Belmont's main track for the first time. Jenner felt War Emblem handled the track "really great. It's sandy, but it's a nice track. He just floated over it. I'm excited, I'm really excited."

Ortiz: Time for a Triple Crown

Trainer Paulino Ortiz, who was working as an assistant to trainer Laz Barrera when Affirmed became Thoroughbred racing's last Triple Crown winner in 1978, said he will be rooting for War Emblem to become the sports 12th Triple Crown winner.

"I think it's now time for a Triple Crown winner because for so many years we haven't had one," the 62-year-old Ortiz said. "A lot of horses tried, but couldn't make it. I think [War Emblem's] got a good chance to be a Triple Crown winner."

Harking back to 1978, Ortiz said he wasn't as confident in Affirmed's chances to defeat Alydar in the Belmont in the days leading up to the race.

"About five to seven days out he coughed for a couple of days, and he wasn't eating the right way and he was a little bit weak," Ortiz said. "I thought that day he was going to lose. He was sound, but he didn't seem right inside. Two days before the race we were nervous."

This one's for the horse

Trainer Bob Baffert says that the Kentucky Derby is a personal prize, but by the time a horse is going for the Triple Crown, the focus should be on the horse. Baffert, owner Prince Ahmed Salman, and jockey Victor Espinoza will try for the Triple Crown with War Emblem in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

"This is about the horse. It's about history," Baffert said. "It's not about Bob Baffert, or Victor Espinoza, or Prince Ahmed. If you go to Manhattan and ask people who won the Triple Crown, they'll say Secretariat, Seattle Slew. They can tell you that, but not who trained the horse, or who rode the horse. If he gets it done, it's his name that goes in the record books."

Baffert doesn't expect the race to be a procession.

"It's definitely not a gimme," he said. "Proud Citizen is [drawn] inside him. I'm sure they might try different tactics."

Regardless, War Emblem will be allowed to use his usual tactics of being on or near the lead.

"We've been trying to get him to relax, but you can't take his game away from him," Baffert said. "We don't want Victor pulling on him like he's fighting a marlin."

It gets to everyone

Trainers get nervous before the Belmont Stakes, even those who seem as though they can hide it. D. Wayne Lukas, who maintains an image of being unflappable, said even he gets butterflies when the horses near the starting gate.

"We come into these races with extreme confidence, but the closer they get to the gate, the more you start to leak," Lukas said. "You go through all your nightmare thoughts."

Jockeys visit the children

A group of Belmont jockeys paid a visit to the Ronald McDonald House in nearby New Hyde Park on Thursday morning.

The Ronald McDonald House is a home away from home for seriously ill children who are being treated in area hospitals. The visit by the jockeys has become an annual event during Belmont Stakes week.

Jockeys Jerry Bailey, Shaun Bridgmohan, Heberto Castillo Jr., Victor Carrero, Mike Luzzi, Richard Migliore, Edgar Prado, and Jose Santos visited about 30 children and signed autographs.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Jay Privman