06/06/2006 11:00PM

Zito consistently in Belmont mix

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Hemingway's Key, at Belmont with trainer Nick Zito (right) on Thursday, runs in Saturday's Belmont Stakes after finishing third in the Preakness.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Leaving Nick Zito out of your exotic wagers in the Belmont Stakes can be hazardous to your bankroll.

In the last three Belmonts in which he has participated, Zito has finished in the top four with five of the six horses he has saddled. Last year, Zito ran second and fourth with Andromeda's Hero and Indy Storm. In 2004, Zito won the race with Birdstone and finished third with Royal Assault. In 2001, Zito's A P Valentine finished second behind Point Given. Of Zito's recent Belmont horses, only A P Valentine (5-1) was lower than 10-1 on the odds board.

Saturday, Zito will send out another longshot in Hemingway's Key, the George Steinbrenner-owned colt who finished third in the Preakness Stakes at odds of 29-1. Zito said Hemingway's Key, a son of Notebook, reminds him a lot of Andromeda's Hero, who came out of an eighth-place finish in the Derby last year to run second to Afleet Alex in the Belmont.

With 2 wins from 7 starts, Hemingway's Key has the same record that Andromeda's Hero brought into the Belmont. Zito said Hemingway's Key qualified for the Belmont by the way he ran in the Preakness.

"He just kept coming, which is what obviously got us to this point, which made us want to run in the Belmont, which made us think we have a decent chance, which I think we do," said Zito, who has six second-place finishes in the Belmont. "If you can believe putting a horse in a Grade 1, million-dollar race to qualify for another million race, that's what we did. I'd like to press on."

Since the Preakness, Hemingway's Key has been training in the relatively serene setting of Saratoga. Zito said he believes that atmosphere has done wonders for the high-strung Hemingway's Key.

"I'm happy with the way he's doing," he said. "The horse has got a lot of energy. That's what you need going a mile and a half."

When Zito won the Belmont with Birdstone, he and owner Mary Lou Whitney were apologetic because they had ended the Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones in front of a record Belmont Stakes record crowd of 120,139.

"If we were fortunate enough, lucky enough, blessed enough [to win], I don't think the owner will be sad he won," Zito said. "He deserves it, too. George puts up a lot of money. He's a good sport when it comes to racing. He'd be a worthy [winner]. I'd like to do it for him."

Vagrancy showdown looms Sunday

Sunday's Grade 2, $150,000 Vagrancy Handicap will feature a showdown between top female sprinters Dubai Escapade and Smokey Glacken. The Vagrancy is run at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Both fillies are using the Vagrancy as a stepping-stone to the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder on July 15.

Dubai Escapade and Smokey Glacken are both 3 for 3 this year. Dubai Escapade has two allowance wins and a 4 3/4-length score in the Grade 2 Madison at Keeneland on April 12. Smokey Glacken won the First Lady and Hurricane Bertie handicaps at Gulfstream and the Grade 2 Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct on March 25.

On Tuesday, Dubai Escape worked four furlongs in 47.68 seconds over the Belmont main track. It was the fastest of 68 works at the distance. Also on Tuesday, Smokey Glacken worked five furlongs in 1:00.70 over the training track.

Dubai Escapade and Smokey Glacken were both assigned 120 pounds for the Vagrancy. Others expected to run include Leave Me Alone and Magnolia Jackson. Possible starters include Annika Lass, Career Oriented, Grecian Lover, and High Button Shoes.

Magnolia Jackson, who has won 4 of 5 starts, including the Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap, blew out three furlongs in 34.62 seconds Wednesday at Aqueduct.

Thirty years since Bold Forbes

Angel Cordero Jr. won just one Belmont Stakes, but it might have been one of the greatest rides in his Hall of Fame career. Cordero somehow coaxed the speedy Bold Forbes, who won that year's Kentucky Derby for trainer Laz Barrera, to hang on for 1 1/2 miles in the 1976 Belmont.

"I didn't think he had a chance, to be honest," Cordero said Wednesday morning at Belmont Park. "I think Laz was the only one who thought he could do it."

These days, Cordero works horses in the morning for trainer Todd Pletcher and is the agent for jockey John Velazquez, who recently returned to action after being away for a month following a harrowing accident at Keeneland.

"I'm more happy than anybody" that Velazquez is back, Cordero said.

During his riding career, Cordero was notorious for trying to take every edge he could in a race. That desire apparently has not waned since his retirement.

Earlier this week, Jose Santos Jr., the 12-year-old son of jockey Jose Santos, was visiting Cordero's house, where they played the racing video game Gallop Racer.

"We had a real close finish," Jose Jr. said Wednesday. "He beat me by a nose. Then I notice that he gave my horse 130 pounds, and his horse 118. Can you believe he went and did that? I was on the ground laughing."

Jose Jr., who is a very sharp handicapper, said he likes Deputy Glitters in the Belmont. He has an unbiased opinion this year, because his father does not have a mount in the race.

Attila's Storm to resume training

Attila's Storm finished fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, then went to California over the winter for a pair of stakes. But he emerged from the Palos Verdes Handicap with a small fracture in his left hind leg and had surgery.

His trainer, Rich Schosberg, on Wednesday said that Attila's Storm is ready to come back to Belmont Park and begin training for races late this summer and in the fall. He has been recuperating at owner Barry Schwartz's farm in upstate New York in recent months.

"He's coming in next week," Schosberg said. "He spent 60 days in California after the surgery, then came back here and was turned out. He's done some jogging and some light work. All the post-operative X-rays look fantastic. He should run late this summer or early fall and hopefully make the Breeders' Cup."

Schosberg said Attila's Storm underwent his surgery with Dr. Doug Herthel at Alamo Pintado in California.

"Fortunately his fracture wasn't displaced," Schosberg said. "He needed a couple of screws. The prognosis for an injury like that is excellent."

Jerkens waiting with Artie Schiller

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said he was disappointed with Artie Schiller's third-place finish as the favorite in the Dixie Handicap at Pimlico nearly three weeks ago. As a result, he is going to back off Artie Schiller and then decide where to run next.

"I don't know if we'll wait until Saratoga or not," Jerkens said Wednesday morning. "We're going to sit down and figure it out. He didn't run up to par last time. I don't know why. We'll back off, crank him up, and see what's around."

* Flashy Bull, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, worked a half-mile in 47.63 seconds on the Belmont Park training track Wednesday morning for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman