06/08/2005 11:00PM

Reverberate's team has done that

Reverberate has several Belmont veterans in his corner, including trainer Sal Russo, who won the Belmont as an assistant.

ELMONT, N.Y. - His owner has won the Belmont Stakes. His trainer has won two, albeit not as a trainer. His jockey, veterinarian, groom - heck, even his father - have all won the third leg of racing's Triple Crown.

Reverberate certainly has the connections to be successful in Saturday's 137th renewal of the Belmont Stakes. Oh yeah, he may just have the talent as well.

If there is a horse creating a buzz on the Belmont Park backside this week, Reverberate is it. Although he has yet to win a stakes race, Reverberate's improving form earned him status as the third choice on the morning line behind Preakness winner Afleet Alex and Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo. Reverberate has put together two solid efforts, winning an entry-level allowance race here May 8 and running second to Oratory in the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes on May 28.

His owner, Centennial Farms, won the 1993 Belmont Stakes with Colonial Affair, who also finished second in the Peter Pan. Both horses earned 106 Beyer Speed Figures in the Peter Pan. Centennial Farms also owned Signal Tap, the fourth-place finisher in the 1994 Belmont.

Scotty Schulhofer trained Colonial Affair. Sal Russo, the trainer of Reverberate, was Schulhofer's assistant. Russo was the agent for jockey Jose Santos when Santos guided the Schulhofer-trained Lemon Drop Kid to victory in the 1999 Belmont. Santos will ride Reverberate.

Vincente Zapien, the groom for both Colonial Affair and Lemon Drop Kid, is also the groom of Reverberate.

"He's going to be the Woody Stephens of grooms," said Dr. Steven Carr, who was Schulhofer's veterinarian and is the racing manager and veterinarian for Centennial Farms.

Carr, along with Donald Little Sr., Donald Little Jr., Paula Parsons, and Judson Streicher are the core of Centennial Farms, a racing syndicate that has 10 partners on Reverberate. In addition to Colonial Affair, Centennial Farms owned Rubiano, the 1992 champion sprinter, as well as the millionaire turf horse King Cugat and the multiple stakes winner Ground Storm.

Carr, the Littles, Parsons, and Streicher pick out the horses the syndicate will buy at auction. The group will target one "big" horse and look to supplement that purchase with more, less-expensive horses.

At the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sales, the group focused on a chestnut colt by 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Thunder Gulch.

"Conformation and appearance," Carr said when asked what made Reverberate the one. "He was a fancy athlete, a beautiful walker. His pedigree was a bonus. As an individual he stood out. This is the one we wanted as a lead horse."

The Centennial team budgeted $500,000 for the colt and was pleasantly surprised when they got him for $400,000.

Reverberate won his second career start at Belmont last September. Less than two months later, he finished fifth in the Nashua Stakes and, shortly after the race, underwent throat surgery to correct a breathing problem.

Reverberate was green during the winter in Florida but began to come around when Russo added blinkers to his equipment for a race March 5. That day, he finished second behind Noble Causeway in an allowance race.

It was then that Centennial scrapped its Derby dreams for Reverberate and began to think Belmont. The plan was to use another allowance race and the Peter Pan as stepping-stones. Russo had a spot picked out at Aqueduct in early April, but he couldn't ship Reverberate back to New York when the infectious disease strangles broke out in south Florida.

When Reverberate returned to New York, he won an allowance race May 8, drawing away from Three in the Bag in the stretch. Three in the Bag won the Queen's Plate Trial at Woodbine via disqualification in his next start.

Reverberate ran back 20 days later and dueled with Oratory for a good part of the Peter Pan before giving way late. He was beaten by 4 3/4 lengths, but finished 6 1/2 lengths clear of the rest of the field.

"He was a curious horse who was goofing off and not paying attention," Carr said. "Putting the blinkers on, time, and maturity have focused him, and he's come to be the horse we thought all along."

Russo said his only concern is that the Belmont Stakes will be Reverberate's third race in 34 days.

"If you had 30-some-odd days, it could help him, you know," Russo said. "He's always taken the races well, it's just learning what he's doing. He's always had a ton of ability; he's just been green and immature. He's finally getting his act together."

Zapien, 56, says Reverberate is similar to Colonial Affair and Lemon Drop Kid in that he has a laid-back temperament. "They all were nice to be around," he said.

Russo said Zapien is methodical in his job. He gets one fewer horse than the rest of the grooms, because "you can't rush him."

"Scotty used to tell me he was bad luck," Russo said. "We'd give him the good ones, and they'd get hurt. When we gave him Colonial Affair, [Schulhofer said] then he was okay."

Donald Little Jr., who said he hid behind a post at the start of the 1993 Belmont, said he believes the karma is there for another Belmont victory for his group.

"You have the Derby winner, the Preakness winner, and then you could throw a blanket over everybody else," Little said. "Is Giacomo beatable? I think so. Afleet Alex, he's been unbelievable; the Preakness, I don't think you'll ever see anything like that again. A mile-and-a-half race is a lot different. You got to have pretty good luck in there."

Luck in the Belmont is something the people surrounding Reverberate have already had.