- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

The first Belmont Stakes in four years without a Triple Crown contender includes a rematch and nine unlikely challengers.

Preakness Stakes winner Afleet Alex is the 6-5 favorite in Saturday’s 137th Belmont over Kentucky Derby victor Giacomo (4-1). The field, other than those two, is full of dreamers, with four entrants claiming just one career victory each and another winless.

Only Triple Crown newcomer Reverberate (6-1) was rated less than 12-1 by the track oddsmaker, meaning the top three choices will combine for more than half of the win wagers.

The race could influence 3-year-old colt divisional honors greatly. Afleet Alex will try to become the 18th Preakness/Belmont champion, and Giacomo could be the 12th Derby/Belmont victor. Both horses finished third in the other leg of the Triple Crown. If a long shot takes the Belmont, the division becomes a scramble through year’s end.

Trainer John Shirreffs said Giacomo should have earned some respect after finishing a strong late third in the Preakness following his 50-1 Derby shocker. Drawing the No. 5 post should keep Giacomo out of early trouble.

“Giacomo looks like a 1-mile [race] will suit him very well,” Shirreffs said. “He seems to be always coming at the end.”

But Afleet Alex’s 43/4-length victory after recovering from a dangerous collision with Scrappy T in the Preakness clearly makes him the choice. Trainer Tim Ritchey expects a traditional slow opening mile at the Belmont before jockeys ride hard on the turn.

“It’s probably going to be a three-eighths mile run [to the wire],” Ritchey said. “I don’t think we’ll have a tepid pace, [but jockey] Jeremy [Rose] will have to sit back and judge.”

Rose will ride four days at Belmont Park to learn the nuances of a 1-mile track that has unraveled many Triple Crown bids. A half-mile longer than many ovals, the “Big Sandy” often fools riders on the turn. Jockeys think they are close to home only to see a beach-like stretch that goes a quarter-mile more than at many other tracks.

“On a mile track, when you switch leads going into the turn, you want to put your horse in the race a little bit,” Ritchey said. “Well, here you want to relax for a little while longer until at least halfway around the turn, if not the quarter pole.”

The rest of the field represents a dramatic dropoff. Andromeda’s Hero is the only other runner that entered either of the first two legs of the Triple Crown, finishing eighth in the Derby. Reverberate was second in the Peter Pan Stakes on May 28 at Belmont, making the local runner the choice among New York “wise guys” hoping for another upset like last year, when Birdstone knocked off Smarty Jones.

• The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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