06/06/2005 12:00AM

Security barn change levels playing field


ELMONT, N.Y. - Responding to complaints from some local horsemen, the New York Racing Association has once again revamped stabling procedures for Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

All horses running in the Belmont and the supporting stakes races must report to one of the race-day security barns - Barns 8 and 23 - on Saturday morning, NYRA officials announced Monday.

Last week, when a horse on the Belmont backstretch was suspected of having the respiratory disease strangles - the horse tested negative last Friday - NYRA officials said that horses shipping in from out of state would ship into Barn 14. That barn on Belmont Day was to act as a third security barn. Preakness winner Afleet Alex is in Barn 14, and Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo is scheduled to join him there Wednesday. Thus, those horses would not have had to leave their stalls until it was time to go to the paddock for the race, while horses stabled in other barns at Belmont would have to report to Barn 8 or 23 by mid-morning Saturday.

Nick Zito, who trains three Belmont Stakes starters and has his own Belmont barn, said he thought shippers were being granted an unfair advantage and expressed those concerns Monday morning to Charles Hayward, the president and CEO of the New York Racing Association.

"I thought they should all go in there," Zito said, referring to the security barn. "If we all have to go over, that's fine. Afleet Alex and Giacomo, it's hard enough to beat them to begin with. They get to stay in their barn, but we have to go to another on Saturday morning? They should, too. This isn't a home field advantage, it's a visitor advantage."

Hayward acknowledged that Zito and other horsemen "had a legitimate concern."

Beginning May 4, all horses competing on a NYRA card have had to report to a security barn on raceday. But with the likelihood of more horses running on Saturday than the security barn can allow, NYRA will have to make an adjustment to accommodate all the horses.

NYRA's security barns can house only 93 horses. With 13 races scheduled for Saturday, NYRA expects to draw more than 93 entries. NYRA officials have still not decided what to do with the extra horses. Racing secretary Mike Lakow said a decision would be made after Saturday's entries are drawn Wednesday.

Lakow said there is enough time to move the horses scheduled to run in races 12 and 13 into the security barn stalls occupied by horses slated to run in races 1 and 2. First post is noon. Post time for race 12 is 7:20 p.m.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman