My funny Valentine

Jun 5, 2001 6:36 AM

In the last 20 years, only one Belmont Stakes winner went on to become Horse of the Year - A.P. Indy in 1992.

A.P. Indy’s son, A P Valentine, would have a chance of pulling it off should the Nick Zito-trained colt capture the Belmont this weekend.

A P Valentine would have to get past probable favorite Point Given, who won the Preakness after finishing fifth as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

Zito, a New York City native, acknowledges that A P Valentine was behind in his training all season, but after finishing second in the Preakness, Zito said the colt is now showing the form he displayed as a 2-year-old, when Zito called him "the best horse I ever trained."

That makes A P Valentine dangerous here, and my top choice to win the race.

Always keep in mind the weather, which calls for showers on Thursday and Friday, which could cause the track to come up muddy.

No matter which horse wins the race, he will be bucking a trend of running into obscurity. Less-than-memorable winners since 1981 include Summing, Bet Twice, Go And Go, Hansel, Colonial Affair, Tabasco Cat, Editor’s Note and Victory Gallop, none of which have created a stir in the minds of Hall of Fame voters.

There have been stylish winners during that span, such as Conquistador Cielo in 1982 and Easy Goer in 1989. But for the most part, during the last two decades the Belmont will be remembered more for producing blips on racing’s radar scale rather than sonic booms.

The Belmont distance is 5/16 of a mile greater than the Preakness. As if that wouldn’t benefit A P Valentine, he also is a "horse for the course." He was unbeaten in two starts over the track last year, including a victory over Point Given in the Champagne Stakes.

Balto Star faded to 14th in the Kentucky Derby after winning three straight races by a combined 29½ lengths. A confirmed front-runner, he catches a paceless cast, and with Chris McCarron taking over for Mark Guidry, should be in front as far as he goes until the daunting distance takes its toll.

Other contenders include Derby winner Monarchos, purse nibbler Dollar Bill and Thunder Blitz, who finished a distant fourth in the Derby under Edgar Prado but gets omniscient Jerry Bailey for the Belmont.

My Belmont picks: A P Valentine, Point Given, Balto Star.

Early Line
Belmont Stakes
3-year-olds, 1 ½ miles
Saturday, June 9 3:04 p.m. PDT NBC-TV
A P Valentine 5-1
Balto Star 12-1
Buckle Down Ben 20-1
Dollar Bill 6-1
Dr Greenfield 12-1
Invisible Ink 8-1
Monarchos 3-1
Point Given 2-1
Thunder Blitz 10-1