06/02/2010 11:00PM

Velazquez looks to end Triple Crown on high


Thus far, it has been a forgettable Triple Crown series for jockey John Velazquez.

First, he lost arguably his best shot to win a Kentucky Derby when Eskendereya, the leading 3-year-old through the first four months of the year, was withdrawn from consideration for the race - and subsequently retired - with a soft-tissue injury. Velazquez rode the filly Devil May Care in the Derby, but she finished 10th.

Velazquez sat out the Preakness after his scheduled mount, A Little Warm, bled in a workout five days before the race.

On Saturday, Velazquez has a chance to salvage the Triple Crown when he rides Fly Down in the $1 million Belmont Stakes. Fly Down is third choice on the morning line behind stablemate and Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box and Preakness runner-up First Dude.

Fly Down, a son of Mineshaft, enters the Belmont off a dominant six-length victory in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes over this track four weeks ago. He was ridden by Jose Lezcano that day, but Lezcano is committed to ride Ice Box in the Belmont.

Velazquez rode Fly Down in the colt's career debut last October. Breaking from the rail, the horse walked out of the gate and was still about eight lengths back at the quarter pole before closing to finish third, beaten 3 1/2 lengths.

"He was just very green," Velazquez recalled. "He didn't break very good, but he finished up very well. He just didn't get there in time."

In the Dwyer, Velazquez was aboard Remand, who raced in front of Fly Down until the middle of the far turn.

"He passed me at the three-eighths pole and was gone," Velazquez said. "I thought he was making a premature move; apparently he wasn't."

Zito hopes to enjoy a Belmont win

Both of trainer Nick Zito's wins in the Belmont Stakes came when a Triple Crown was on the line. In 2004, he sent out Birdstone, who ran by Triple Crown hopeful Smarty Jones in the final furlong to win. In 2008, with Big Brown going for the Triple Crown, Zito won it with longshot Da' Tara, who went gate to wire while Big Brown was pulled up by jockey Kent Desormeaux at the quarter pole.

While Zito said he felt some remorse when Birdstone stopped Smarty Jones's Triple Crown bid, he said he did enjoy Da' Tara's victory.

"I thought that was really cool," Zito said. "Everybody thought Big Brown was going to win, he didn't show up. We had a feeling the horse was going to run great, when he did it was a lot of fun. It wasn't like Big Brown ran second or third. With Smarty Jones, it was different, he could have been a Triple Crown horse and we spoiled it."

That year, Zito felt compelled to apologize to John Servis, the trainer of Smarty Jones.

When told that the majority of the crowd on Saturday would likely be pulling for Zito to win his third Belmont, he said, "I hope we don't disappoint them."

Zito trains both Ice Box and Fly Down in this year's Belmont.

Belmont wagering menu expands

With a 13-race program on Saturday, there are a few tweaks to the betting menu.

There will be three pick-four wagers, starting with races 2, 8, and 10. The pick four that starts with race 8 and includes the True North, Acorn, Manhattan, and Belmont Stakes has a guaranteed pool of $1 million. There is a late pick four that begins with the Manhattan and includes the Belmont and a pair of New York-bred races.

The all-stakes pick six, which begins with the Woody Stephens (race 6) and concludes with the Belmont, has a guaranteed pool of $1 million.

* Jackson Bend, the third-place finisher in the Preakness, worked four furlongs in 47.84 seconds Thursday in company with 4-year-old Thomas the Great. Zito, the trainer of Jackson Bend, has not yet figured out where Jackson Bend will start next.