08/05/2002 11:00PM

Puzzlement tunes up for Travers

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Puzzlement, winner of a second-level allowance race here on July 24, began preparations Tuesday for the $1 million Travers on Aug. 24 with an easy five-furlong move timed in 1:05.25 over the main track.

While the move was the second slowest of 23 at the distance, Saratoga's main track has slowed down considerably following a weekend that produced extremely fast times and tended to favor inside speed runners. Only two five-furlong works on Tuesday were timed in under 1:01.

Puzzlement could go off the second choice in the Travers behind Medaglia d'Oro, the impressive winner of the Jim Dandy. Puzzlement's allowance victory, in which he defeated older horses, was his first start since finishing second in the Peter Pan Stakes on May 25. He was scratched out of the Belmont Stakes with a bruised foot. Trainer Allen Jerkens could have run Puzzlement back in the Jim Dandy, but elected to wait.

"We only skipped the Jim Dandy because we felt we were doing the right thing not making three races up here,'' he said.

While Jerkens said he was impressed with Medaglia d'Oro's victory in the Jim Dandy, he believes the 13 3/4-length margin of victory is a little misleading.

"He wouldn't have won that easy if they didn't have that accident," Jerkens said, referring to the spill in which Quest came over on Iron Deputy, who in turn clipped Quest's heels and dropped rider Richard Migliore. "He would have won, but not by 13 lengths."

Greatness's dud baffles Jerkens

Meanwhile, Jerkens said the seventh-place finish of Greatness in Saturday's Amsterdam Stakes dumbfounded him. Jerkens said the fast pace of 21.80 seconds and 44.60 shouldn't have taken that big a toll on Greatness.

"It didn't bother the horse that finished second," Jerkens said of Boston Common, who was part of the early pace along with Greatness and Mayakovsky. "He didn't run three-eighths of a mile.''

Jerkens was unsure whether Greatness would run back in the King's Bishop on Aug. 24.

On Tuesday, Jerkens worked his 2-year-old colt Spite the Devil four furlongs in 49.52 seconds. Spite the Devil finished third - beaten a nose for second - in the Sanford on July 25, and is nominated to the Saratoga Special on Aug. 14.

"I put him in there in case it comes up a small field," Jerkens said. "It's hard to know what to do with them. Kelly Kip won [the Sanford], we skipped the middle one, and he was last in the Hopeful."

Stellar, Ella Bella work for Adirondack

Two-year-old fillies Stellar and Ella Bella, both coming off impressive victories in their debuts, worked Tuesday morning at Saratoga in preparation for a possible clash in Monday's Adirondack Stakes.

Stellar breezed five furlongs on the main track in 1:01.01. Ella Bella breezed a half-mile at the Oklahoma training track in 50.63 seconds.

Patrick Biancone, who trains Stellar, said he was likely going to run his filly in the Adirondack, believing she needs another prep to be at her best for the Spinaway Stakes on Aug. 30.

"She should improve off her first start," Biancone said Tuesday morning. "She is a big baby. I think I need to run her one more time to get her ready for the Spinaway." Biancone said he would prefer to run in an allowance race, but said, "Here, a non-winners of two does not exist."

Ella Bella, according to trainer Todd Pletcher, could be entered in both the Adirondack and Sunday's $125,000 Ontario Debutante Stakes at Woodbine. "She's Canadian-bred, so I could run her at Woodbine," Pletcher said. "I'll decide on the Adirondack after I size up the field."

Santos to sub for Bridgmohan on Volponi

Because jockey Shaun Bridgmohan already had committed to Whitmore's Conn for Saturday's Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational, trainer P.G. Johnson said he will use Jose Santos on Volponi in the $500,000 race.

Bridgmohan had ridden Volponi in his last seven starts, including a second-place finish in the Bernard Baruch Stakes here on July 26. "He already had taken a call before I knew I was going to run, and he's honoring the call, which I understand," Johnson said.

Volponi has not had a published workout since the Baruch, but Johnson said the colt will be plenty fit for the 1 1/2-mile grass race from training at the Oklahoma training track.

"He two-minute licks, going flat out, every third day," Johnson said. "It's old-fashioned. I've had a lot of success doing that with horses who are running long, once they're fit.

"I don't have to train him as hard as when he's going a mile or a mile and a sixteenth," Johnson said. "You can get a horse fit here at Oklahoma. You can train at Oklahoma forever."

Johnson said he moved Volponi back to the turf for his last two starts because "the main surface at Belmont got a little scary this spring."

"Good horses were getting hurt for good trainers," Johnson said. He said the surface at the Oklahoma track at Saratoga was not as hard and far more forgiving.

The Sword Dancer is expected to be headed by Cetewayo, Denon, and With Anticipation.

Victory Ride works toward a comeback

Victory Ride, last year's Test winner, is progressing well toward another comeback for trainer Rusty Arnold. On Sunday, Victory Ride breezed a half-mile in 52 seconds (Arnold's time) over the Oklahoma training track, a breeze that was not recorded by track clockers.

Arnold said it was Victory Ride's second work back since returning from the farm following her third-place finish in the Grade 1 Shuvee on May 18. Arnold said Victory Ride came out of the Shuvee with a bruised foot and was sent to the farm for a few weeks.

Victory Ride, who broke a leg during a workout here last August, is being pointed to the Ruffian Handicap on Sept. 14 at Belmont Park.

"As far as her soundness she's great," Arnold said. "I'm very, very happy where she's at."

Arnold said that Jaramar Rain, who finished sixth in the Coaching Club American Oaks, would skip the Alabama and point to the Gazelle on Sept. 7. Arnold felt he might have run Jaramar Rain in the Coaching Club back too quickly off an emphatic allowance victory.

"I haven't lost confidence that she's a good horse,'' Arnold said. "We're going to find out if she's good enough. If she isn't then I'm wrong."

* Late Carson, nominated to Sunday's Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, worked four furlongs in 47.25 seconds over Saratoga's main track Tuesday, the fastest of 38 moves at the distance.

* Quest Star, who won Monday's National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Stakes, will likely run next in the Saranac Stakes on Saratoga's closing day Sept. 2.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman