06/06/2008 12:00AM

Belmont Analysis and Selections - Brad Free

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1. Big Brown

2. Tale of Ekati

3. Icabad Crane

4. Casino Drive

The 2008 Triple Crown is easily summarized: one relatively fast horse against a bunch of slower horses. Soft competition has made BIG BROWN look very good, but nowhere close to great. On the other hand, Big Brown is only 1 1/2 miles from a great achievement. The Belmont Stakes is his to lose.

Can the undefeated colt be defeated? Of course he can. And at a low 2-5, Big Brown is a horrible underlay. His come-home times are slow; his last speed figure (100 Beyer) was ordinary; and better horses than him have fallen one leg short of the Triple Crown. But few faced such bleak competition. Big Brown has speed, acceleration, and a five-win career in which his smallest margin was 4 3/4 lengths. Bet against the best horse? It requires bravery, or stupidity.

TALE OF EKATI returns to the track on which he scored his first two wins – a blowout debut last summer and a Grade 2 in fall. Fourth in the Derby, the Belmont Park specialist has gradually improved; four starts in New York include three wins (one a Grade 1) and a second; he has tactical speed and will be in the hunt on the far turn. At 20-1, Tale of Ekati might be the only horse worth gambling on.

ICABAD CRANE may not be good enough, but he was not disgraced finishing third in the Preakness. Each start this spring has been better than the one before, his closing style means he will be out of everyone’s way, and if the pace collapses he could stagger home for a big piece at a big price.

CASINO DRIVE will be overbet after winning the Grade 2 Peter Pan by almost six lengths in his first United States start and second of his career. From the same mare that produced Belmont winners Jazil and Rags to Riches, Casino Drive has an up-close running style similar to the favorite, and might improve second start back. He probably will have to. Winning the Belmont in career start No. 3, facing the best colt in the U.S., is awfully tough.

Denis of Cork finished third in the Derby, thanks to a fine ride by Calvin Borel, who then was sacked. Jockey changes for no good reason produce bad karma. Preakness runner-up Macho Again will finish; Ready’s Echo can pick up the pieces; Da’ Tara helps keep the pace honest; Anak Nakal is slow; Guadalcanal is a maiden.