05/28/2004 11:00PM

Tapit, The Cliff's Edge will not run

Tamara Faulkner/Tapeta Farm
Michael Dickinson and Tapit: Respiratory problems knocked the colt out of the Belmont.

BENSALEM, Pa. - Tapit and The Cliff's Edge, who won major Kentucky Derby preps before failing in the Derby and then skipping the Preakness Stakes, will also miss the Belmont Stakes, their connections announced on Saturday.

Both 3-year-old colts had been in precarious positions, so their defections were not surprising. But they reduced the number of top contenders for Saturday's Belmont, in which Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones will attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner.

The absence of Tapit and The Cliff's Edge, coupled with the prospective small field for the Belmont, has emboldened at least one new challenger. Caiman, who has won two recent allowance races at Hawthorne, may ship in from Chicago. He worked five furlongs in 1:05 at Arlington Park on Saturday.

"I'll make a decision [Sunday]," said his trainer, Angel Medina. Caiman was eighth in the Holy Bull Stakes earlier this year.

In addition, Peter Pan Stakes winner Purge is a slight possibility for the race, though trainer Todd Pletcher said the defections of Tapit and The Cliff's Edge are not a factor in whether Purge runs. Bobby Frankel said that Master David, who was third in the Peter Pan, is doubtful, and most likely will wait for a stakes race at Churchill Downs on June 12.

Tapit had a workout postponed by two days last weekend because of a nagging cough, the latest manifestation of respiratory problems that have plagued him all year, beginning at the Florida Derby. Despite working again on Wednesday, Tapit did not progress this past week to the satisfaction of his trainer, Michael Dickinson. He finished ninth in the Derby after capturing the Wood Memorial.

David Fiske, the racing manager for owner Ron Winchell, said Dickinson brought in a veterinarian from Tufts University to test Tapit for allergies and Tapit seems to be, according to Fiske, "hypersensitive to some common things you'd find around the barn.

"We were trying him on different medications, and we thought we were in good shape but he just wasn't himself a couple of days after the work," Fiske said.

The Cliff's Edge, who won the Blue Grass Stakes and then was fifth in the Derby, bruised his right front foot a few days before the Preakness. He had his first workout since then on Saturday at Saratoga's Oklahoma training track. He went five furlongs on a fast track in 1:02.73, the best time among five at the distance.

"He looked good doing it, but he was awfully tired afterwards," said Nick Zito, who trains The Cliff's Edge. "Mr. LaPenta," Zito said, referring to owner Robert LaPenta, "agreed with me that we should pass the race and wait for the summer races. He missed a lot of days of training. Running a mile and a half when you're up against it is not the right thing to do."

Zito still will be represented by Royal Assault, the winner of the Sir Barton Stakes, and Birdstone, who worked six furlongs in 1:15.34 at Saratoga on Saturday. Birdstone, who won the Champagne Stakes at Belmont last year, also skipped the Preakness after finishing eighth in the Derby.

"He worked good. Right now, as long as everything looks good, he'll run in the Belmont," Zito said.

Birdstone will be sent by van to Belmont Park on Tuesday. Royal Assault is already at Belmont and is scheduled to work there on Monday. Rock Hard Ten, the Preakness runner-up, is also scheduled to work Monday at Belmont.

Purge will work in company at Belmont on Monday before Pletcher makes a final decision on whether he runs. "Our only chance to turn the tables would be if we could somehow be the stalker instead of the stalkee," Pletcher said.

Purge is 3 for 5, with his only two losses coming to Smarty Jones. In both those races, Purge set the early pace. Purge finished second in the Rebel Stakes, and fifth in the Arkansas Derby.

At Philadelphia Park Saturday, Smarty Jones walked around the shed row of trainer John Servis's barn. Bill Foster, the stable's foreman, said Smarty Jones was so aggressive "I had to put a lip chain on him."

- additional reporting by David Grening