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BELMONT ANALYSIS

No Time to Play Favorites

June 08, 2002|BOB MIESZERSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Having stayed away for the last month, I see no reason to jump on War Emblem's bandwagon now.

There are some, who after tearing up Kentucky Derby future book tickets on Sunday Break, Johannesburg, the distance-challenged Came Home and assorted others, believe War Emblem is a slam dunk in the Belmont.

Of course, that same song was sung about Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Charismatic in 1997, '98 and '99, and all those colts fell short in their quests to join Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Secretariat and eight other legendary thoroughbreds as Triple Crown winners.

Those exuding confidence, among them trainer Bob Baffert, who has developed and nurtured War Emblem for about two months, seem to believe a Triple Crown winner will be a magic elixir for a sport with problems. Such an occurrence may indeed provide a short-term boost.

But depending on what happens tonight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson in Memphis and whether Barry Bonds goes home run crazy against New York in Yankee Stadium, a historic Belmont victory by War Emblem may not be the lead story on any television sportscast tonight, or the top headline on any sports page Sunday morning.

Along with the 10 other 3-year-olds in the field, bettors searching for a price will be trying to beat War Emblem, who will probably be even money or less.

Having failed with Private Emblem in the Derby--at least I had the Emblem part right--and Medaglia d'Oro in the Preakness, Perfect Drift is my Belmont choice.

A gelded son of Dynaformer, Perfect Drift skipped the Preakness after finishing third at Churchill Downs.

Perfect Drift was taken out of his game a bit in the Derby, running closer to the pace than expected.

Given that War Emblem probably will be kept busy up front by the improving Wiseman's Ferry, who won't go away as easily as Menacing Dennis in the Preakness, and the 1 1/2-mile distance, Perfect Drift and jockey Eddie Delahoussaye could get the ideal scenario for springing the surprise from off the pace.

Perfect Drift's workouts have been solid and maybe he can become another Triple Crown spoiler on a list that includes, since 1979, Coastal, Summing, Bet Twice, Easy Goer, Touch Gold, Victory Gallop and Lemon Drop Kid.

Sunday Break, who wasn't able to run in the Derby because of insufficient graded stakes earnings and who missed the Preakness because trainer Neil Drysdale wanted to, could be the second betting choice.

Thus far, his hype has exceeded his performance. His victory against suspect opposition in the Peter Pan on May 25 was his first in a graded stakes. In his only other appearance in a Grade I, Sunday Break finished third in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. He was beaten by only half a length, but should not have missed with the trip he had and, in hindsight, the Wood was probably overrated as a Kentucky Derby prep.

Proud Citizen has been solid in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, finishing second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, and he probably won't be far away today.

He and Sunday Break are the only two horses in the field who have won at Belmont Park.

The feeling is that Magic Weisner, the surprise runner-up in the Preakness at 45-1, won't be the same outside of Maryland--all his races have been run at Pimlico or Laurel--and the others, except, perhaps, Essence Of Dubai, look like pretenders.

Hindered by the lack of pace in the Kentucky Derby, Essence Of Dubai never fired, but he should get fractions to run at in the Belmont, he has a new jockey in Jerry Bailey, the country's leading rider, and gives every indication he will handle 12 furlongs. That can't be said for many in the field.

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