Crown coronation?

Jun 4, 2002 2:23 PM

War! “Ugh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”

            Or so goes Edwin Starr’s pop song from the 1970s. But don’t expect Edwin to dissuade many Belmont bettors who are banking on War Emblem to become the first Triple Crown winner in more than 20 years.

             Saturday’s Belmont Stakes should be a great race and a great event to watch. It will probably be more entertaining than the late night “war” (or ­­atavistic sideshow) between Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis.

            There are plenty of precedents and intangibles working in War Emblem’s favor. First, this is the Chinese Year of the Horse, and for our purposes it’s the year of the black War horse.

            When War Emblem steps onto the track, it will be 65 years nearly to the day that War Admiral, the son of the great Man O’ War, won the Triple Crown while breaking his father’s record going wire to wire in the Belmont after stumbling badly at the start.

            What is even more amazing is that when he stumbled he cut and injured his leg and came back to the winner’s circle a bloody mess. But his courage and raw talent kept the horse on the track and on target for victory.

            Going into this year’s race it appears that most of the wanna-be’s are out, and the new faces don’t inspire much confidence, except perhaps, for Sunday Break (who couldn’t beat Medaglia d’Oro).

            Yet, there are questions War Emblem must answer. How did War Emblem fare after two grueling races? What if a rabbit runs with him? Can he get the 1½ mile distance?

            There are answers: War Emblems final quarter of :242/5 in the Derby was the fastest in history by a frontrunner. The only other front-running Derby winner to break :25 in modern times was Swaps, who came home in :244/5. Seattle Slew, who pressed the pace in the Derby, came home in :261/5.

            Also War Emblem’s opening half of :46 (over a dull track) in the Preakness was the fastest in the last 17 years. The last Preakness winner to run a faster opening half and win was Seattle Slew.

            Does War Emblem’s front-running style put him at a disadvantage? Six of the last eight Triple Crown winners led at every call in the Belmont, including the last four.

            Last year’s Belmont winner, Point Given, also trained by the ever-personable Bob Baffert romped by 121/4 lengths. Here is what Baffert had to say the other day “If you thought Point Given put on a show, wait till you see this horse. I can’t wait for the Belmont.”

            That’s enough for me to blow my dough, especially since I didn’t go to the wedding!

            NOTES: The NYRA will offer double wagering on Friday’s Grade 1 Acorn and the Belmont Stakes, along with a $1 million guaranteed Pick 6 pool, plus a $500,000 guaranteed Pick 4.

            Friday and Saturday’s Belmont picks, as well as Hollypark and Belmont choices plus all sports action, will be available free of charge on the web site.


Odds for Saturday’s 134th Belmont Stakes

(NBC-TV, 2 p.m.)

By Ed Golden


      Horse                         Jockey                                             Odds


      War Emblem                         Victor Espinoza                     6-5

      Sunday Break                        Gary Stevens                          9-2

      Perfect Drift                           Eddie Delahoussaye              8-1

      Proud Citizen                         Mike Smith                           8-1

      Magic Weisner                       Richard Migliore                12-1

      Medaglia d’Oro                      Kent Desormeaux               12-1

      Like A Hero                           Pat Day                                15-1

      Puzzlement                             Jean-Luc Samyn                 15-1

      Essence of Dubai                    Jerry Bailey                        20-1

      Sarava                                     Edgar Prado                      20-1

      Wiseman’s Ferry                    Jorge Chavez                     30-1

      Artax Too                               Norberto Arroyo Jr.           30-1


            Analysis: Barring the unforeseen, War Emblem should either lead wire-to-wire or settle comfortably behind longshot Wiseman’s Ferry, who appears the lone speed besides the favorite, and go on to win. Neil Drysdale missed the 1992 Derby with A.P. Indy due to a last-minute foot bruise. He used the Peter Pan as a prep for the Belmont, which A.P. Indy won. This modus operandi could be successful again with the Drysdale-trained Sunday Break, who did not qualify for the Derby because he lacked enough earnings from graded races. Sunday Break won the Peter Pan on May 25, putting the son of Forty Niner in position for a minor upset in the Belmont, if he’s good enough. Perfect Drift did not have the cleanest trip finishing third in the Derby, passed the Preakness, has been training well since and figures close. Puzzlement rallied for second behind Sunday Break in the Peter Pan and is trained by “The Giant Killer,” Allen Jerkens.

            Selections: War Emblem, Sunday Break, Perfect Drift, Puzzlement.