05/31/2006 11:00PM

Turf horse will take a shot

Cause to Believe will skip the Belmont Stakes and point to the Affirmed, his trainer said.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Barry Irwin and his Team Valor ownership syndicate has had a modicum of success in the Belmont Stakes. In 1992, Team Valor finished second behind A.P. Indy with My Memoirs. In 1998, Team Valor and Earle Mack co-owned Thomas Jo, who finished third behind Victory Gallop and Real Quiet. A third Team Valor horse, Dr Greenfield, finished last in 2001.

This year, Irwin and Team Valor are back again with Oh So Awesome, a son of Awesome Again who spent most of his career racing on turf in Europe. In his North American debut, Oh So Awesome finished third in the off-the-turf Match the Hatch Stakes over a sloppy Belmont track, a performance encouraging enough for him to earn a spot in the field for the $1 million on June 10.

The Belmont field, which will lack both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, lost one prospective starter on Thursday, when trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said Cause to Believe would not ship from northern California. That reduced the field to 11 probable starters.

On Thursday, Oh So Awesome worked seven furlongs in 1:27.86 over the Belmont main track. He worked in company with Mumble Jumble, a 6-year-old turf horse. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said Oh So Awesome galloped out a mile in 1:41, and he was pleased with how the horse went.

"I didn't expect him to work a mile in 1:38. He's not the kind of horse that's going to do that," said Jerkens, who also trained Thomas Jo. "He didn't do any more than he had to. I think he got a lot out of it. He's kind of a horse a little on the small side. There's no extra flesh on him. We'll have a chance to come back and give him a little bit of a blowout next week."

Regarding the Belmont, Jerkens said that, aside from Bluegrass Cat and Sunriver, "I think it is pretty wide open."

Oh So Awesome caught Irwin's attention because he was a son of Awesome Again who ran effectively on the turf in Europe.

"Awesome Again is strictly a dirt sire. He's useless as a turf sire," Irwin said. "This horse had shown enough on the turf already. We knew he could run long and was sound, and we figured if this horse moved up over here on the dirt he'd be a viable Belmont [Stakes] horse."

Irwin's original plan was to keep Oh So Awesome in Europe with trainer Jean-Claude Rouget and ship him here right on top of the Belmont. Irwin did that in 1992 with My Memoirs. He tried it again in 2001 with Dr Greenfield, but Dr Greenfield became fractious at the starting gate and was never a factor, finishing last behind Point Given.

Irwin said Rouget told him he thought it would be a good idea to ship Oh So Awesome to America early.

"The guy bailed on us is what happened," Irwin said.

Irwin then had planned to run Oh So Awesome in a second-level allowance race on May 19, but that race didn't fill. Instead, Jerkens entered Oh So Awesome as a main-track-only entrant in the Match the Hatch, hoping the race would come off the turf. It did, and Oh So Awesome rallied along the rail to finish third.

"I think his race the other day was surprisingly good for us, because he had never been on that kind of track," Irwin said. "He was on the deepest part of the goo down the stretch. He had a long stride, and he kept coming."

Mike Smith, who is winless with 10 Belmont mounts, will ride Oh So Awesome in the race.

Cause to Believe points to Affirmed Handicap

Hollendorfer said from his barn at Bay Meadows on Thursday that he discussed running Cause to Believe in the Belmont with owners Peter Redekop and Peter Abruzzo, but they decided to go in another direction.

"We talked over all the options and decided the best thing to do is keep him on the West Coast and not ship across the country," he said.

Hollendorfer said Cause to Believe, who finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby, would be pointed to the Affirmed Handicap on June 17, with an eye on the July 8 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes. Both races are at Hollywood Park.

* Hemingway's Key, the third-place finisher in the Preakness, worked five furlongs in 1:01.29 Thursday over Saratoga's training track.

- additional reporting by Chuck Dybdal

Belmont contenders

Horses pointing for the 138th Belmont at Belmont Park on June 10.

Bluegrass CatT. PletcherJ. Velazquez2nd, Ky. Derby
Bob and JohnB. BaffertG. Gomez17th, Ky. Derby
Deputy GlittersT. AlbertraniE. Prado8th, Ky. Derby
Hemingway's KeyN. ZitoJ. Rose3rd, Preakness
High FinanceR. VioletteE. Coa1st, Bel allowance
JazilK. McLaughlinF. Jara4th*, Ky. Derby
Oh So AwesomeJ. JerkensM. Smith3rd, Match the Hatch
Platinum CoupleJ. LostrittoJ. Espinoza6th, Preakness
Sacred LightD. HofmansV. Espinoza2nd, CD allowance
SteppenwolferD. PeitzR. Albarado3rd, Ky. Derby
SunriverT. PletcherR. Bejarano1st, Peter Pan

* - Dead heat