- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

There is no Triple Crown possibility, but a three-sided grudge match could dominate the 137th Belmont Stakes.

Bowie-based trainer Robert Bailes said yesterday he’s “leaning” toward entering Preakness Stakes runner-up Scrappy T in the Belmont on June 11 against Preakness winner Afleet Alex and Kentucky Derby victor Giacomo.

Bailes said only a setback over the weekend following yesterday’s sharp five-eighths mile work in 58 2/5 seconds would send the colt to the Colonial Turf Cup on June 25 at Colonial Downs in Providence Forge, Va., or the Dwyer Stakes on July 4 at Belmont Park instead of the Belmont Stakes.

“The main thing is my horse is at the top of his game,” Bailes said. “If we don’t believe we can win the race, we’ll be looking for something else.”

If Scrappy T runs, the first Belmont without the Triple Crown on the line in four years will be a rubber match between Giacomo and Afleet Alex and a rematch for Afleet Alex and Scrappy T. Afleet Alex nearly fell in the Preakness stretch when he was blocked by Scrappy T before his “Immaculate Recovery” turned a near-fatal mishap into victory. The collision earned ESPN’s Play of the Week and renewed interest in the Belmont, a race often overlooked when it has no Triple Crown contender.

“It attracted a lot more new fans,” Afleet Alex trainer Tim Ritchey said. “If they didn’t see the [Preakness] live, they saw highlights of it on ESPN and NBC.”

Bailes wouldn’t speculate whether Scrappy T would have won if his colt remained straight upon leaving the turn and had not bothered Afleet Alex. Certainly, the race wouldn’t have been decided before the sixteenth pole.

“You can sit there and guess, but it’s something you really can’t answer,” Bailes said. “[Jockey] Ramon [Dominguez] felt like he had a ton of horse when he went to the lead and at the end. Whether he had enough to outlast Alex in the lane, who knows?”

Bailes said Dominguez will remain atop Scrappy T despite the jockey’s controversial move of striking the colt left handed upon leaving the turn, which sent Scrappy T into Afleet Alex’s path. Dominiguez countered he was trying to make Scrappy focus.

“Ramon thought [Scrappy T] was looking around a little bit,” Bailes said. “That’s one reason why we’re trying to stick with the same rider. Ramon will get to know his good and bad habits.”

Giacomo shouldn’t be overlooked in the 1-mile Belmont, said trainer John Shirreffs. The closer that stunned the Derby at 50-1 proved he wasn’t a fluke with a third-place finish in the Preakness. Still, Shirreffs was glad Giacomo didn’t win the Preakness by default had the Scrappy T-Afleet Alex collision cost both horses a chance. Going for a tainted Triple Crown wouldn’t have been satisfying.

“That’s not the way it’s meant to be,” he said. “We were really happy he ran so well in the Preakness. Maybe people will appreciate him a little bit more.”

Note — The Belmont might attract 11 runners. Andromeda’s Hero, Pinpoint, Chekhov, Southern Africa, Sort It Out, A.P. Arrow, Nolan’s Cat and Watchmon are probables.

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