06/26/2005 11:00PM

Soft spot turns treacherous

Four-Footed Fotos
Roman Ruler (above), a two-time graded stakes winner, and Commentator, unbeaten around one turn, meet in an allowance sprint Wednesday.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Though Roman Ruler will make his next start at Belmont Park, it's coming five days earlier than anticipated.

Rather than run in next Monday's Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes, Roman Ruler is entered to run in a third-level allowance race Wednesday at Belmont. But if trainer Bob Baffert was hoping to bring Roman Ruler back to the races in a soft spot, this was not it. The seven-furlong race also drew Commentator, a talented 4-year-old New York-bred who is 5 for 5 around one turn, including a sharp victory in last fall's Perryville Stakes at Keeneland.

Roman Ruler won two graded stakes last summer and was the favorite for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, a race in which he finished fifth. Plagued by foot problems throughout the winter, Roman Ruler has made just one start this year, finishing last in the San Felipe on March 19. A chronic quarter crack problem reoccurred and Baffert opted to stop on the horse to let the foot grow out.

Roman Ruler has been training steadily since May, including a six-furlong move in 1:10.20 on June 20 at Santa Anita. But Baffert said he didn't feel Roman Ruler was to ready run 1 1/16 miles - the distance of the Dwyer - first time back and opted for Wednesday's race.

"I don't know how fit he is,'' Baffert said. "I don't know if he's ready for a mile and a sixteenth. The foot's in good shape. There are no plans for him, we're just going race by race with him.''

Roman Ruler will have to run down Commentator if he is to win his return. Commentator, trained by Nick Zito, has not been out since Jan. 8 when he finished seventh in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap at Gulfstream Park - the only loss of his career. Commentator came out of that race with a fractured shin.

Commentator shows only five works for his return, but one was a sizzling five-furlong move in 59.20 seconds over Saratoga's Oklahoma training track on June 6. Because the Oklahoma surface is so deep, horses rarely break a minute when working five furlongs.

Zito was actually pointing Commentator to the $60,000 Artax Handicap, a 6 1/2-furlong overnight stakes on Wednesday's card. But Zito did not like the 120-pound weight assignment for the horse's first time back. By naming apprentice Channing Hill, Commentator carries only 114 pounds in this race.

"I got to start him off somewhere,'' Zito said. "He's more relaxed now. We got him ready for this race and hope to have him around for the second part of the season.''

Pletcher weighs Suburban options

Trainer Todd Pletcher plans to run one horse in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Suburban Handicap. He's just not sure who that horse will be.

Pletcher will run either Pollard's Vision or Limehouse in the Suburban, run at 1 1/4 miles. The other one is likely to run in the Hollywood Gold Cup the following week. Pletcher is intrigued by the Gold Cup because of its $750,000 purse and lack of a standout horse.

Eddington, winner of the Pimlico Special, heads the Suburban field. Eddington was assigned high weight of 120 pounds for the Suburban. Pollard's Vision, second in the Special, was assigned 118. Funny Cide, fourth in the Special and Brooklyn, was assigned 117. Sir Shackleton (116), Evening Attire (116), and Runaway Russy (111) are the others under consideration.

Pollard's Vision may be more likely for the Gold Cup. In his 21-race career, Pollard's Vision has run at 15 tracks in 12 states. He has been partial to Illinois, having won the Illinois Derby at 3 and the National Jockey Club Handicap this year. He lost his only start at Belmont.

Limehouse has done his share of traveling too, but ran the best race of his career earlier this month winning the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap in his first start at Belmont. In his only try at 1 1/4 miles, Limehouse finished fourth in the 2004 Kentucky Derby.

"My biggest concern is coming back a little quick,'' said Pletcher, noting that it is only three weeks between the Brooklyn and Suburban.

Sunday, Pollard's Vision worked six furlongs in 1:12.44 in company with Magna Graduate, a 3-year-old that Pletcher is pointing to Saturday's $350,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown. Magna Graduate, who was turned over to Pletcher this spring, was credited with a six-furlong move in 1:12.46.

Limehouse worked five furlongs in 1:01.47 on Sunday.

Wonder Again ready for New York

Wonder Again signaled she is ready to successfully defend her title in Saturday's New York Handicap when she worked a strong five

furlongs in 59.84 seconds over Belmont's turf course on Sunday. It was the fastest of 16 moves at the distance.

"I didn't think she was going to go that fast, but she did,'' trainer Jimmy Toner said. "I'm very happy with the breeze."

Last year, Wonder Again finished sixth in the Just a Game and came back to win the New York. This year, she finished third in the Just a Game.

Wonder Again was assigned 120 pounds for the New York, one fewer than Film Maker. Last fall, Film Maker finished a neck in front of Wonder Again when the two were second and third behind Ouija Board in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Others pointing to the New York, run at 1 1/4 miles, are Sauvage (117), Finery (116), and Wend (116). Riskaverse (118) is possible.

Travers 'a stretch' for Bellamy Road

Nick Zito is beginning to get his bevy of 3-year-olds ready for the second half of the year. His top gun, Bellamy Road, has resumed light training at Saratoga after having the splint bone he injured while racing seventh in the Kentucky Derby pinfired. Zito is uncertain when Bellamy Road will race again, but sounded doubtful he could make the Travers on Aug. 27.

"He's back on the track jogging; we'll turn him around soon,'' Zito said, referring to galloping. "He's a very athletic horse, but the Travers is a little bit of a stretch. Let's hope he makes the fall. The main thing is I talked to the Steinbrenner family and my main goal is going to try to get to the Breeders' Cup Classic.''

Meanwhile, Belmont Stakes runner-up Andromeda's Hero worked five furlongs in 1:03.73 Saturday at Saratoga and is likely to make his next start in the Jim Dandy on July 30. Sun King and Noble Causeway also both worked Saturday, but Zito does not have specific spots picked out for them.

Pinpont, who finished last in the Belmont, is expected to run in Saturday's Ohio Derby, while Middle Earth, third behind Lost in the Fog and Egg Head in the Riva Ridge, will run in Monday's Dwyer.

* Three jockeys will serve three-day suspensions this week for careless riding infractions incurred last week. Norberto Arroyo Jr. and Pablo Fragoso begin their suspensions on Wednesday. Chantal Sutherland begins hers on Thursday.