09/25/2005 11:00PM

Pletcher has plenty of prospects

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Todd Pletcher has horses lined up for six Breeders' Cup prep races this weekend, including BC Distaff champ Ashado (above).

ELMONT, N.Y. - Todd Pletcher was one of the stars of last year's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, saddling two winners for his first victories in the series. This weekend will go a long way toward determining his chances of having more Breeders' Cup success at the end of October.

Belmont Park will host eight stakes this weekend that should have major implications on the 22nd Breeders' Cup to be held here on Oct. 29. Pletcher will be involved in at least six of this weekend's stakes, with the majority of his stable's top horses taking part on Saturday's card, which includes five Grade 1 events.

The top gun in Pletcher's stable right now is Flower Alley, the 3-year-old colt who won the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga. Saturday, he will face older horses for the first time in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, which is a stepping-stone to the $4 million BC Classic.

While somewhat rushed to make the Kentucky Derby - where he finished ninth - Flower Alley has developed nicely this summer into one of the top 3-year-olds in the country and seems to be getting better with each race. Sunday, Flower Alley breezed five furlongs in 1:01.72 in company with Magna Graduate, who is pointing to Friday night's Pegasus Handicap at The Meadowlands.

"More than anything he has become a more professional horse in his races,'' Pletcher said of Flower Alley. "That was the biggest change in him from the Arkansas Derby, the Kentucky Derby, even the Lane's End, which he won. Part of that is probably the blinkers, some of it is just racing experience, physical maturity.''

Lava Man is the main speed of the race, and and if he fears that Lava Man could get an uncontested early lead, Pletcher would consider running a rabbit in the race. With front-runners Suave and Alumni Hall likely to run, Pletcher may not have to pull a rabbit out of his hat for the Gold Cup.

Others pointing to the race include Borrego, Imperialism, and Roman Ruler.

Beldame: Ashado needs to rebound

Ashado gave Pletcher his first Breeders' Cup win when she took last year's Distaff. The remarkably consistent filly ran her worst race when fourth in last month's Personal Ensign Handicap. She suffered a bruised foot in the race. Saturday, she will try to bounce back in the $750,000 Beldame Handicap at 1 1/8 miles.

Pletcher had flirted with the idea of skipping the Beldame and training Ashado up to the Distaff, but has been pleased with her recent training, including a Sunday workout timed in 1:01.76.

"To have one bad race, we will have to forgive her for the one,'' Pletcher said. "She has trained well. As long as that's the case I would have to be confident that she will come back and run one of her big races.''

The Beldame is expected to come up strong with Grade 1 winners Dream of Summer, Happy Ticket, Island Sand, Shadow Cast, Society Selection, and Sweet Symphony among the likely starters. Personal Legend, second in the Personal Ensign last out, completes the probable runners.

Monday, Society Selection worked seven furlongs in 1:26.98 over Belmont's main track.

English Channel steps up in Hirsch

English Channel is Pletcher's top 3-year-old turf horse and he will try to earn a berth in the $2 million BC Turf with a strong performance in Saturday's $750,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.

English Channel won the Colonial Turf Cup and the Grade 3 Virginia Derby before finishing second to Gun Salute in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington on Aug. 13.

"Our horse has got to be covered up early on and rate kindly,'' Pletcher said. "We found ourselves on the lead in the Secretariat, which wasn't the place to be, particularly on that day.''

John Velazquez may have a hard time getting English Channel covered up as none of the other horses mentioned as likely starters in the Joe Hirsch has much early speed. European invaders Ace and Alost will join a group consisting of Meteor Storm, Shakespeare, and either Islerio Noir or Revved Up from trainer Christophe Clement's barn.

Sunday, English Channel worked five furlongs in 1:02.24 over Belmont's turf.

Lion Tamer returns in Vosburgh

Pletcher's other Breeders' Cup win last year came in the Sprint with Speightstown. Saturday, Pletcher is expected to run Lion Tamer in the $500,000 Vosburgh, but it's not

necessarily with designs on a repeat in the Sprint.

Pletcher said he is more likely to point Lion Tamer to the Sport Page Breeders' Cup Handicap on the Breeders' Cup undercard as a prep for the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 6. Lion Tamer won last year's Cigar Mile.

Pletcher said if Lion Tamer runs well in the Vosburgh, however, he could possibly run back in the Sprint. Lion Tamer has not run since May 30 when he finished fourth, beaten a head in the Lone Star Park Handicap at 1 1/16 miles. Lion Tamer came out of that race with a wrenched ankle.

"I need to get a start into him and I don't think it's reliable to sit around and wait for an allowance race to fill,'' Pletcher said. "If he jumps up and runs great obviously that opens the possibility of the Breeders' Cup. If he runs respectable we might look at either the Sport Page or training up to the Cigar Mile.''

In the Vosburgh, Lion Tamer will be coupled with Pomeroy, who comes off a monster win in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 13. Others pointing to the Vosburgh are I'm The Tiger, Mass Media, Silver Wagon, Taste of Paradise, Unfurl the Flag, and Woke Up Dreamin.

Limehouse likely for Kelso

Limehouse is a multiple graded stakes winner and earner of more than $1 million on dirt. But Pletcher and owner Cot Campbell's Dogwood Stable will seek to open a new door for the 4-year-old colt when they try him on the grass in Sunday's Grade 2 Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap.

On Sept. 19, Limehouse breezed four furlongs in 47.25 seconds over Belmont's turf course. Sunday, he came back with a half-mile move in 49.64.

"We're hoping a change of surface might light his fire a little bit,'' said Pletcher, who will also run Willard Straight in the Kelso. "It seemed like it did the other morning. He worked really well. A lot of times you're never really sure till you run in a race, but we liked what we saw in the workout.''

Others under consideration for the Kelso, a stepping-stone to the Breeders' Cup Mile, are Artie Schiller, Funfair, Grand Emporium, Gulch Approval, Host, Keep the Faith, and Silver Tree.

Pletcher's other confirmed stakes runner here this weekend is Unobstructed View, the Sorority runner-up who will run in Sunday's $100,000 Astarita Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.

* Trainer Dominic Galluscio on Monday began serving a 15-day suspension as the result of one of his horses testing positive for Acepromazine, a banned substance. The suspension, which runs through Oct. 10, was reduced from 30 days for Galluscio waiving his right of appeal. Galluscio was also fined $1,000.