05/29/2001 11:00PM

Preakness absentees fresh for Belmont bid


It works for produce and bread, but is fresh best for the Belmont Stakes?

Trainers Todd Pletcher and Joe Orseno believe so, which is why they kept Kentucky Derby runners Balto Star, Invisible Ink, and Thunder Blitz out of the Preakness Stakes in order to come into the June 9 Belmont off a five-week layoff.

Invisible Ink was second, Thunder Blitz fourth, and Balto Star 14th in the Derby on May 5. They skipped the May 19 Preakness, in which Point Given beat A P Valentine, Dollar Bill, and Monarchos, the Derby winner.

So, of the nine 3-year-olds currently in line for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, seven ran in the Derby. Four have run in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but the other three took a pass on the middle leg. Last year's Belmont winner, Commendable, skipped the Preakness after running 17th in the Derby.

Pletcher trains both Balto Star and Invisible Ink. He said the time off was beneficial, particularly for Balto Star, who suffered from heat exhaustion after the Derby.

"He lost a lot of weight, but he's come back now," Pletcher said from his barn at Belmont Park. "It was an easy decision to pass the Preakness. He's training like a monster. He pulls up bucking and playing. The five weeks will do him well. He's very fit."

Pletcher said Invisible Ink "bounced back pretty good" from the Derby, but he thought the colt still would be better suited by waiting for the Belmont rather than being wheeled back on two weeks' rest in the Preakness.

"The five weeks in between races should give them an edge," Pletcher said. "I think it was the right thing to do, skipping the Preakness. Going from a mile and a quarter to a mile and three-sixteenths two weeks later is tough. We're hoping that it's taken something out of the horses that have done it."

Thunder Blitz "has put on 40 pounds since the Derby," according to his trainer, Joe Orseno.

"He's very aggressive. When he gets back to the barn after his gallops, he doesn't take a deep breath, and he barely touches his water. He's going into the Belmont really good," Orseno said. "I need this race to run - soon."

John T. Ward Jr., the trainer of Monarchos, said he is trying to go easy with the Derby winner in order to have him at his peak for the Belmont.

"He will go into it fresh," Ward said from Kentucky. "He's doing super.

"We're moderating his gallops. He'll have another work over the weekend, probably on Sunday, but we have to monitor the weather. We're supposed to get rain."

Sunday is shaping up as a key day for workouts at Belmont Park. In addition to Monarchos, both Balto Star and Invisible Ink are scheduled to work that morning. Thunder Blitz is scheduled to work Saturday. At Churchill Downs, Dollar Bill is scheduled to work Sunday or Monday, while Point Given will work Monday or Tuesday. Both of those colts will be flown to New York on Wednesday, along with Buckle Down Ben.

Despite his rough trip in the Preakness, Dollar Bill "came out of it great," his trainer, Dallas Stewart, said Wednesday from Churchill Downs.

Dr Greenfield, who is based in England, is scheduled to pop out of the gate on Thursday and work three furlongs on Friday. The work could be moved back a day if Dr Greenfield needs an additional day of residency at the gate, according to Barry Irwin, the president of the Team Valor syndicate that owns Dr Greenfield. Irwin on Wednesday announced that Team Valor's website - teamvalor.com - would have continuous news updates on Dr Greenfield.

Dr Greenfield is scheduled to be flown from England to New York on Monday night. He will arrive Tuesday morning, and get out of quarantine and be sent by van to Belmont Park late Wednesday afternoon if all goes as planned.