06/06/2001 11:00PM

Analysis: Balto Star early, with Point Given coming on late


Balto Star cannot win the Belmont Stakes if he engages in a head-to-head battle. He cannot win if co-favorites Point Given and Monarchos reach him with a full head of steam. Balto Star cannot win the Belmont if he cannot stay the 1 1/2-mile distance, and he cannot win if he is just plain outclassed.

However, Balto Star can win the Belmont if he gets into a race by himself. This front-runner can win by making the Belmont a one-horse race, loose on the lead. Jockey Chris McCarron and trainer Todd Pletcher already have plotted strategy, and Pletcher's quote "We've got to spread the field out a little" is great news to bettors who consider lone speed the most effective style in horse racing.

Gate-to-wire winner of consecutive Grade 2's before melting in a pace duel in the Kentucky Derby, Balto Star has trained well in the five weeks since. He should be alone out front, under one of the country's best big-race riders. Balto Star might not stay the trip. He might not be good enough. But the likelihood of him establishing an uncontested lead - at overlaid odds - mandates one take the field's only front-runner to race gate to wire. If the track comes up wet, know this - Balto Star is a mudlark.

Little separates Monarchos and Point Given, unquestionably the country's top-ranked 3-year-olds and winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown. However, handicappers who believe the Belmont can be won on the front end by Balto Star will prefer that the exacta be completed by the colt who possesses more speed - Point Given.

Except for a mystifying non-performance in the Derby, Point Given has shown up in every race. First or second in nine of 10, he won the Preakness with speed to spare, and will be positioned in front of Monarchos. Tactical speed takes on added importance in the Belmont, and Point Given will be one of the first to go after the pacesetter. He ran well on this track last fall, and will be favored to confirm his status as the best 3-year-old in the country.

Monarchos turned in an inexplicably poor effort in the Preakness, but he is eligible to bounce back. If longshot front-runner Balto Star does come back to the field, then every stretch-runner in the Belmont will have a chance to rally for the win, including Monarchos.

Thunder Blitz has improved every race, and enters the final leg of the Triple Crown as a fresh horse, having skipped the middle leg. If the two favorites (Point Given, Monarchos) are worn out entering the final stop on their campaign, Thunder Blitz is a legitimate threat to pick up all the pieces from behind.

Invisible Ink is fresh and dangerous; Dollar Bill is trouble-prone but a longshot fit with a clean trip; and Buckle Down Ben has enough tactical speed to make first run at the pacesetter. Dr Greenfield's form from Europe is modest, and A P Valentine will pick up some pieces at underlaid odds.