- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Roses aren’t the only late-bloomers around Churchill Downs. All of a sudden, expected favorite Bellamy Road should see at least four serious contenders for Saturday’s 131st Kentucky Derby, plus several looming long shots.

Bellamy Road will be the tepid choice when post positions are selected today. Afleet Alex, Bandini, Sun King and High Fly are gaining backers. So are Wilko, High Limit, Noble Causeway and Greeley’s Galaxy in the deepest Derby field since 1995.

The starting gate should be full with 20 horses despite Bellamy Road’s imposing 171/2-length victory in the Wood Memorial, which tied an Aqueduct record over 11/8 miles. In fact, the biggest winning margin ever by a Derby favorite in his preceding race couldn’t even scare off three contenders and a long shot in his own barn. Bellamy Road trainer Nick Zito will become the second conditioner to enter five horses, including Florida Derby winner High Fly and runner-up Noble Causeway and Tampa Bay Derby champion Sun King.

Bellamy Road is a late comer despite victories in four of five career races at five different tracks. The Wood was his first major victory, letting detractors claim he could ?bounce? off the dominating effort.

Bandini could be the next choice following a runaway victory in the Blue Grass Stakes for trainer Todd Pletcher. Then again, Pletcher also likely will enter Lexington Stakes winner Coin Silver and Arkansas Derby runner-up Flower Alley. If Bellamy Road has four stablemates on the track, Pletcher’s trio might be needed to counter any roadblocks.

?This is the strongest group of horses I’ve ever brought to the Derby,? said Pletcher, whose Invisible Ink finished second at 55-1 in 2001. ?I think all three are coming up to the race at the peak of their careers.?

High Fly has been overlooked since he took the Florida Derby on April 2, which traditionalists say is too long ago. With Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey weighing retirement later this year, this could be a repeat of the 1986 Bill Shoemaker farewell victory aboard Ferdinand.

?[High Fly has] already proven he can beat horses of high quality,? Bailey said. ?I think the biggest question might be with High Fly is will he rate enough to be effective and can he go the mile-and-a-quarter. That might be a question with a lot of horses.?

Afleet Alex is quickly becoming the ?wise guy? pick. Handicappers loved the colt’s half-mile workout over Churchill Downs in 482/5 seconds yesterday. Afleet Alex has won six of nine and finished second twice with his only bad race caused by a lung infection.

?I really think he has a legitimate shot,? trainer Tim Ritchie said.

NBC keeps Preakness

The Preakness Stakes and Derby will remain on NBC through 2010 despite reports the middle jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico would move to ESPN.

?The Derby and the Preakness tend to support and reinforce each other,? Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis said. ?The races have a symbiotic relationship, so it was important to stay with the Derby and on network television.

?ESPN did make us a very attractive proposal [for the Preakness], but we decided it would be clearly in the best interests … to continue our association with NBC.?

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