10/09/2004 12:00AM

Proud Accolade still perfect

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Proud Accolade, with John Velazquez up, wins Saturday's Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont. He defeated the previously unbeaten Afleet Alex by a half-length.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Two years after winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Vindication, Satish Sanan's Padua Stable will be back with a contender to win it again Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park.

Proud Accolade successfully made the jump from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, taking over inside the eighth pole and holding off the favored Afleet Alex to win Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 by a half-length at Belmont Park.

It was the first career defeat for Afleet Alex, who won the Sanford and Hopeful during the Saratoga meet. Sun King was third, beaten 1 3/4 lengths, while finishing 11 3/4 lengths ahead of Silver Train.

The victory was the third in as many starts for Proud Accolade, a son of Yes It's True who was purchased in March for $450,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales 2-year-old-in-training auction.

Though Proud Accolade is by the sprint-oriented sire Yes It's True, trainer Todd Pletcher was confident Proud Accolade would get the distance.

"The one thing that's been impressive from day one is he's always had a terrific mind," said Pletcher, who won his first Champagne after sending out the beaten favorite in both 1999 and 2003. "A lot of times you get horses out of a 2-year-old in-training sales that are very fast in those sales and want to be fast all the time. He's one of those colts that's very cooperative; he gives it to you when you ask him for it."

Breaking from the outside under John Velazquez, Proud Accolade settled nicely while in fourth and stalked Silver Train through fractions of 23.71 seconds and 47.20 for the opening half-mile. Sun King and a rank All Trumps pressured Silver Train.

Sun King struck the front leaving the five-sixteenths pole under Javier Castellano, but could not hold off Proud Accolade, who made the lead inside the eighth pole. Proud Accolade covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.30 and returned $6.80 as the second choice.

Velazquez did a good job of keeping Afleet Alex bottled up to his inside and in traffic. Jeremy Rose had to swing wide turning for home, but did have three-sixteenths of a mile to run down Proud Accolade and couldn't do it.

"If he gets a clear trip I think he wins the race," said Tim Ritchey, the trainer of Afleet Alex. "But that's what happens in racing. He ran his race, he was catching that horse at the end so distance isn't a problem; we found that out for absolute certainty."

Ritchey said he wanted to see how Afleet Alex comes out of the race before committing to running in the Breeders' Cup. Trainer Nick Zito said he would consider the Breeders' Cup for Sun King.