06/05/2008 12:00AM

Belmont Analysis and Selections - Mike Welsch

Email

1. Casino Drive

2. Big Brown

3. Denis of Cork

4. Tale of Ekati

Nobody needs either me or any of my colleagues on these pages to tell them Big Brown is the horse to beat in the Belmont. Whether he is unbeatable is another story. Big Brown has easily handled every challenge presented him thus far, but despite his obvious superiority over his competition, there are still some formidable obstacles yet to overcome in the Belmont. There are his well-documented foot issues, the intangible of the added distance, and perhaps most important of all, the imposing newcomer to the equation, Casino Drive, whose full potential may yet to be known.

Big Brown deserves every accolade heaped upon him this spring, and if he were to run roughshod over this field and complete his quest for the Triple Crown, nobody, including myself, would be the least surprised. But when looking at the picture simply from a risk/reward standpoint, there are enough question marks not to just accept blindly the obvious and the $2.80 payoff that goes with having the same opinion as most everyone else. The Beyer Speed Figure of 102 that Casino Drive received winning the Peter Pan is the only other triple-digit number posted by a member of this field, a figure he earned despite returning from an 11-week layoff and breaking poorly in his U.S. debut. Certainly one would expect the Japanese invader to move forward off that effort. His impeccable breeding – he is half-brother to the last two Belmont winners – only adds to the allure. He may provide a formidable roadblock to Big Brown’s quest for racing immortality.

Denis of Cork was my choice to upset Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby. While he was certainly no match that day, there’s a good chance he might have been second had it not been for some poor judgment exercised by his connections at the post position draw, putting him in an outside post, which led to Denis of Cork being left with far too much to do late in the race. I would not have given the slightly built colt much chance had he wheeled right back in the Preakness, but with five weeks to recuperate and better early positioning, he could be sitting on an even better performance Saturday.

Tale of Ekati is undefeated over his home course and appears ready to move forward to a career-best effort after pairing up 93 Beyers in the Wood and Derby.