01/09/2006 12:00AM

Watchmon is rising to prominence

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Watchmon received a reality check when he finished far behind Afleet Alex in the 2005 Belmont Stakes. But since that time Watchmon has captured 3 of 4 starts, won a graded stakes, and is among an exciting group of 4-year-olds who could become a force in the handicap division during the 2006 Gulfstream Park meeting.

will likely vie for favoritism with Powerful Touch when he launches his 4-year-old campaign in Wednesday's $39,000 feature. The high-priced optional claiming race will be decided at 7 1/2 furlongs and drew a field of six older horses.

Watchmon finished ninth, beaten 22 lengths, in the Belmont Stakes. He didn't start again until he registered an easy 6 1/4-length decision over first-level allowance rivals at Saratoga on Aug. 27. A son of Maria's Mon, Watchmon followed that performance with two more victories, including a 1 3/4-length triumph over a sloppy track in the Grade 3 Jamaica Handicap. He concluded his 3-year-old campaign by finishing fifth, beaten four lengths by Magna Graduate, in the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap on Breeders' Cup Day.

"We took a shot in the Belmont. It didn't pan out, then discovered shortly thereafter that he had a twisted testicle that required minor surgery," said Patrick Reynolds, who trains Watchmon for owner Paul Pompa Jr. "He has been pain-free and a different horse ever since."

Reynolds said even Watchmon's defeat in the Discovery was a big effort.

"He raced on a dead rail that day and still only got beat four lengths in a key race," said Reynolds. "Magna Graduate won the race and he was red-hot at the end of the year. Watchmon struggled all the way on the inside yet finished only a neck behind Andromeda's Hero for fourth, and he came back to end the year winning a Grade 3 at Calder."

Although Watchmon closed out his season with three route races, Reynolds is confident he will have no problem turning back to 7 1/2 furlongs.

"He's got a lot more natural speed than people give him credit for," said Reynolds. "When he won at Saratoga this summer, his time for seven furlongs was only two-fifths slower than Lost in the Fog ran later on the same card."

returned from a one-year hiatus to finish third behind Cryptograph and Niigon in the Group 3 Woodbine Slots Cup Handicap on Nov. 19. A 6-year-old, Powerful Touch has trained well since shipping to south Florida.