06/04/2006 11:00PM

Pletcher says work can't wait

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Bluegrass Cat, second in the Kentucky Derby, was one of Todd Pletcher's two Belmont hopefuls to go out for a breeze over the training track Monday.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The gray, gloomy skies at Belmont Park on Monday morning were an appropriate backdrop for a Triple Crown that has gone from engrossing to underwhelming. There is no Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner. There is no Bernardini, the Preakness Stakes winner. There is very little buzz for this Saturday's .

The Belmont is, however, one of the great American classics, a testing 1 1/2-mile race, one lap around spacious Belmont Park. And while the race may lack the drama of years past, it is shaping up as one terrific betting race, with a dozen 3-year-olds likely to be entered on Wednesday. And for those with a horse in the race, the $1 million purse, and the race's prestige, will spend and be felt just the same.

For Todd Pletcher, the Belmont offers two chances for the reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer to snare his first victory in a Triple Crown race. He will send out Bluegrass Cat, who was second to Barbaro in the Derby, and Sunriver, who captured the Peter Pan Stakes in his last start. Both worked on Monday morning at Belmont, but not before Pletcher closely examined the main and training tracks following a surprisingly strong shower Sunday night that forced the cancellation of Monday's all-turf card across the Hudson River at The Meadowlands.

Both Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Jazil, decided early in the morning that if they were to work their horses on Monday, the one-mile training track was in far better shape than the main track. Both watched the harrows go over the training track during the renovation break, and then Pletcher decided to go ahead and work, while McLaughlin took a pass.

Pletcher had wanted to work on Sunday, but a wet track forced him to wait. By Monday, he was itching to go.

"I thought it was safe," Pletcher said at his barn. "I wanted to get it done today."

Bluegrass Cat was first out for Pletcher after the break, at around 9:10 a.m. Working alone, he covered five furlongs on a track rated "good" in 1:01.72 with jockey Eddie King aboard. John Velazquez will ride him in the Belmont.

A few minutes later, Sunriver, working in company with the 3-year-old filly Adieu, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.24 with former jockey Angel Cordero Jr. aboard. Rafael Bejarano has the mount on Saturday.

"I thought both horses worked really well," Pletcher said. "Bluegrass Cat, the one thing we've tried to be conscious of since the way he trained for the Blue Grass is try and do a little less with him as opposed to a little more when he works. I thought he was well in hand throughout."

Bluegrass Cat was a dull fourth in the Blue Grass, but rebounded to run well in the Derby. Eric Donovan, the linemaker at Belmont, said he would likely make Bluegrass Cat the morning-line choice, at either 5-2 or 3-1.

Pletcher said Bluegrass Cat worked swiftly before the Blue Grass. He is not sure if that caused him to run poorly, or if Bluegrass Cat merely fell into the black hole that seems to ensnare many horses at Keeneland.

"Trying to analyze the Blue Grass is probably the hardest thing you can do training horses, because you don't know if anything really matters other than who handles the surface," Pletcher said. "But the one thing that I wanted to change going into the Derby was that the works prior to the Blue Grass were pretty solid. He worked a pretty slow half a week before the Derby, and he seemed to respond by running well.

"Who knows? If he had run somewhere besides Keeneland, the fast works might have worked fine. I was trying to figure something out. If you draw a line through the Blue Grass, he's done very little wrong."

Regarding Sunriver, Pletcher said, "I was a little afraid to work by himself for this big a race because he always works in company.

"He got a little more solid work than you'd usually do in this situation," Pletcher said. "I think both horses have a real chance."

Entries are due and post positions will be drawn on Wednesday morning. Unlike the convoluted draws at the Derby and Preakness, the Belmont has a simple, random, blind draw.

The forecast for Saturday, according to The Weather Channel, is promising, with a high of 75 degrees, and only a 20 percent chance of rain. Temperatures are expected to be in the 70's all week, but there is a chance of either showers or thunderstorms Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

The weather altered the schedules of some Belmont horses. McLaughlin - doing his best impression of Michael Dickinson - walked on the training track just before the harrows went over it, and again after. He ended up not working Jazil over it.

"We're fit and ready to go," McLaughlin said. "We probably overtrain these horses anyway. We have a light-framed, small horse who's as fit as he can be."

Jazil finished in a dead heat for fourth in the Derby in his last start.

David Hofmans, the trainer of Sacred Light, took an overnight flight from California for a scheduled work on Monday, but he also chose not to work. Hofmans was hopeful of working on Tuesday morning instead.

"I'd prefer to work on the main track," Hofmans said.

At Santa Anita, Bob and John worked six furlongs in 1:12.20, the best time of 12 at the distance, for trainer Bob Baffert.

Bob and John is scheduled to fly to New York on Wednesday. Also scheduled on that flight is Double Galore, who won a maiden race in his fifth career start last time out at Hollywood Park. He is owned and trained by Myung Kwon Cho.

- additional reporting by David Grening

Belmont contenders

Horses pointing for the 138th Belmont at Belmont Park on June 10.

HORSETRAINERJOCKEYLAST RACE
Bluegrass CatT. PletcherJ. Velazquez2nd, Ky. Derby
Bob and JohnB. BaffertG. Gomez17th, Ky. Derby
Deputy GlittersT. AlbertraniE. Prado8th, Ky. Derby
Double GaloreM. ChoM. Luzzi1st, Hol maiden
Hemingway's KeyN. ZitoJ. Rose3rd, Preakness
High FinanceR. VioletteE. Coa1st, Bel allowance
JazilK. McLaughlinF. Jara4th*, Ky. Derby
Oh So AwesomeJ. JerkensM. Smith3rd, Match the Hatch
Platinum CoupleJ. LostrittoJ. Espinoza6th, Preakness
Sacred LightD. HofmansV. Espinoza2nd, CD allowance
SteppenwolferD. PeitzR. Albarado3rd, Ky. Derby
SunriverT. PletcherR. Bejarano1st, Peter Pan

* - Dead heat