06/04/2001 11:00PM

Ward shifts his gears a bit: Monarchos in standard work pattern


ELMONT, N.Y. - If John Ward had been training Monarchos for any other race than Saturday's 133rd Belmont Stakes, he probably would not have sent the colt out Sunday morning for a five-furlong workout over Belmont Park's muddy main track.

But as Ward, a conservative horseman by nature, has learned during his first trip down the entire Triple Crown trail, a trainer has to be willing to do things he wouldn't normally do.

"The Triple Crown races are uncompromising as far as training method goes," Ward said after watching Monarchos work over a wet track for the second time in a week. "You can't compromise when you're doing it."

Ward described what he termed "the mindset" that he and Monarchos's owner, John Oxley, adopted when they decided to attempt the classic races: "That Triple Crown racing had its own set of criteria. That's why I call it a racing series inside of racing."

Ward, 55, said it has not been difficult to adjust his training methods for the three races - the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont - run in five weeks.

"It meant you had to be creative and gamble in a couple of different places about what you actually felt needed to be done against what traditionally has been done to be successful," said Ward, who did train two horses for the 1995 Kentucky Derby, Jambalaya Jazz and Pyramid Peak. "And that's the hardest thing for a lot of trainers to do is get themselves into position to expose themselves to criticism for being unconventional."

Ward said the biggest gamble he took was not working Monarchos within the last nine days before the Derby. Of course, that gamble paid off handsomely when Monarchos romped to a 4 3/4-length victory and recorded the second-fastest winning time (1:59.97) in Kentucky Derby history.

Ward said the least gamble he took was not working Monarchos between the Derby and Preakness. (During a gallop, Pimlico clockers credited Monarchos with a mile work in 1:52.80 the Monday before the race). Ward believes his misreading of the Pimlico surface and Monarchos's inability to handle the track were the biggest factors in Monarchos finishing sixth in the Preakness.

Ward said Jorge Chavez was forced to check Monarchos early in the race at a point where the track inclines slightly. As the other horses were moving forward, Ward reasoned, Monarchos was going backward and lost momentum. He spent the rest of the race trying to make up that ground and was spent by the stretch.

"Pimlico is like a golf green," Ward said, "you really got to read it right, and I didn't read it right."

Heading into the Belmont, Ward's training pattern has a more conventional look to it. He has worked Monarchos twice, first going a half-mile in 49.17 seconds on May 27 and coming back with a five-furlong move in 1:00.45 on Sunday. According to Ward, the workouts - which were followed by a walk day - were easier on Monarchos than daily 1 1/2-mile gallops.

"The two works were really moderation on my part," Ward said. "You've seen him go out there and gallop, he overdoes it. I reduced the total amount of workload and I put a couple of breezes in there to make sure I brought his respiratory system back up to where he could handle [1 1/2 miles]," Ward said.

Ward does have a couple of fears heading into the Belmont. First, Monarchos has done the majority of his work over a wet track, and the forecast for Saturday is for dry weather. Belmont's main track could be dry and cuppy, a far cry from the hard surfaces Monarchos enjoyed at Gulfstream and Churchill Downs.

Second, Ward has seen a bit of a bias at Belmont favoring horses who are on or near the lead.

"I think the way the racetrack is playing right now," Ward said. "I don't see the Belmont winner coming from way back."

How will that affect Monarchos, who came from well back to win the Derby?

"I think you'll see us just naturally laying closer because everybody on the front end is going to try and slow the pace," Ward said.

Win or lose Saturday, Ward knows one thing. He definitely wants to get back on the trail next year.

"Absolutely," Ward said. "I told Mr. Oxley the other day, I don't plan to give up training until I'm 70, so I guess we get to do it again. Hopefully, Mr. Oxley's investments hold out until I'm 70."