06/05/2008 12:00AM

Belmont Analysis and Selections - Dave Litfin


1. Big Brown

2. Anak Nakal

3. Denis of Cork

4. Casino Drive

Recent history says this is not the time to “send it in” on a horse going for the elusive Triple Crown. This year’s candidate has only the second best last-out Beyer and will run with a patched quarter crack on his left front hoof. Unless you’re selling framed win tickets from the three-race series on eBay at a nice mark-up, 2-5 is about all Big Brown can do for you.

At the same time, taking perhaps 3-1 on Casino Drive to win the Belmont as a clear second choice doesn’t seem like much of a bargain, either, no matter how impressive he was in the Peter Pan.

As exacta bettors eventually learn from painful experience, the two best horses aren’t always the most probable one-two finishers. Such a scenario could occur with Big Brown and Casino Drive, who will probably indulge Da’ Tara with the early lead while positioned in front of the others in a game of cat-and-mouse, and quicken in tandem around the far turn. Whichever one survives an enervating duel probably wins, but the other is vulnerable to any of several late-running types that don’t look as good on paper.

BIG BROWN could run back to his Kentucky Derby figure and invite comparisons to the all-time greats. Or he might have too much pent-up energy after missing several days of training – “He was trying to get away from me early,” said his exercise rider, Michelle Nevin, after Tuesday’s workout – and find himself running on fumes by the quarter pole.

Based on his pedigree and two blowout wins nearly 7,000 miles apart, CASINO DRIVE might be a truly special horse; or this might be a case of too much, too soon.

Either way, it’s quite possible one will crack, but probably not both. To capitalize in the exacta, it makes sense to key one of them and try to get someone else to pick up the pieces for second.

I will bet Big Brown is the survivor, and key him over the 3-4-7 finishers from the Derby. For every $1 using DENIS OF CORK (improved 10 positions in the final quarter, candidate to improve) and Tale of Ekati (hot trainer, horse for course), I will take $2 with ANAK NAKAL in the hopes he can provide Nick Zito with his seventh runner-up finish in the Belmont. Most recently, the Zito-trained Birdstone ($74) and Andromeda’s Hero (second at 11-1) each ran eighth in the Derby and improved five weeks later.