Before the Triple Crown series began, Bellamy Road was considered the potential star of his generation, perhaps even a superstar. Owner George Steinbrenner's colt had won the Wood Memorial Stakes by 171/2 lengths -- one of the fastest, most impressive performances ever in a 3-year-old prep race.
But Bellamy Road disappointed in the Kentucky Derby, a victim of the fast pace that compromised all of the speed horses in the field. Sidelined afterward by a leg injury, he was almost forgotten. The nation's star 3-year-olds turned out to be Afleet Alex, winner of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and Lost in the Fog, the sensational, undefeated sprinter.
Absent from competition for 31/2 months, Bellamy Road will reappear Saturday at Saratoga, in the 11/4-mile Travers Stakes, under circumstances that may confuse many handicappers. For weeks, trainer Nick Zito had indicated that Bellamy Road would return to action in the seven-furlong King's Bishop Stakes, a race that had long been on Lost in the Fog's schedule. It figured to be a logical prep for a fall campaign that might lead to the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"Seven furlong is a great distance [at which] to come back," Zito said. But in recent days the Hall of Fame trainer changed his mind and decided to run in the $1 million Travers. He acknowledged that it is difficult for a horse to win at 11/4 miles after such a long layoff, but he said: "I don't think the competition is as good as Lost in the Fog. If he can duplicate his Wood Memorial, you'll see what kind of horse he is."
That, of course, is a big "if," for that powerful effort in the Wood could have been a once-in-a-lifetime performance. Even though the Travers field won't include the injured Afleet Alex, it does feature two formidable colts who are in the best form of their lives. Roman Ruler, the Bob Baffert trainee, won the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in his last start. Flower Alley ran away with the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga by more than five lengths.
Zito's choice of the Travers for Bellamy Road left Lost in the Fog with little competition in the King's Bishop. The California-based speedster has won all eight of his starts, by an average margin of nearly seven lengths. Because it is the only Grade I sprint for 3-year-olds, trainer Greg Gilchrist has been aiming for it all year. "This is our Kentucky Derby," he said.