Updated on 09/15/2011 12:21PM

Belmont sets up for whom, exactly?

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
A P Valentine gets his final work under Jamie Sanders. Part of a competitive Belmont Stakes field, A P Valentine beat Monarchos in the Preakness.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The attention on Saturday's 133rd Belmont Stakes rightly centers on the third-round match between Monarchos, the Kentucky Derby winner, and Point Given, who won the Preakness Stakes. This will be the first time since 1994 that different horses won the Derby and Preakness and then squared off in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.

But this year's Belmont is far from a two-horse race. Several other horses in the field of nine - including A P Valentine, Dollar Bill, Invisible Ink, and Thunder Blitz - have finished in front of either Monarchos or Point Given in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Balto Star, the expected front-runner, should find a pace more suitable to his style than the record-setting fractions he pressed in the Derby. And the race's two longshots, Buckle Down Ben and Dr Greenfield, both are managed by people who have had success in the Belmont Stakes.

In addition, both Monarchos and Point Given, as well as A P Valentine and Dollar Bill, have run in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, giving hope to those who followed other schedules that they may have a fresher horse come Saturday afternoon.

"No matter what trainers say, it takes a toll to run in the first two," Nick Zito, the trainer of A P Valentine, said Tuesday morning at Belmont Park.

That is one of the reasons why trainer Todd Pletcher passed the Preakness with Invisible Ink and Balto Star, who finished second and 14th, respectively, in the Derby.

Invisible Ink was overlooked at 55-1 in the Derby but beat everyone except Monarchos. He also lost to Monarchos in the Florida Derby. But Invisible Ink finished in front of Point Given in the Derby and beat Thunder Blitz in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park in January. In addition, Invisible Ink, like Point Given, is a son of Thunder Gulch, who won the 1995 Belmont Stakes.

"I think he has proved himself a quality horse," Pletcher said. "If he improves a bit, he's as good as any. He should like the distance. He goes along pretty easy. The key is to get him into a nice, rhythmic stride, let him gallop along."

Balto Star was only 8-1 in the Derby but could not cope with a scalding pace and stopped badly on the final turn. He also suffered from heat exhaustion after the race. "Of the two I ran, the race was harder on him," Pletcher said.

Yet Balto Star has come back and worked well. He also figures to face far less pace pressure than in the Derby, which gives Pletcher hope that Balto Star can run back to his gate-to-wire victories in the Spiral Stakes and Arkansas Derby.

"I think he'll be the lone speed horse. We have to take advantage of it," Pletcher said. "We've got to spread the field out a little."

Like Pletcher, Zito is based at Belmont Park, which should give A P Valentine the home-field advantage. A P Valentine won the Champagne Stakes here last fall, beating Point Given, and is 2 for 2 at Belmont Park.

"This is home for him. He's happy here," Zito said of A P Valentine, who finished second in the Preakness after a nightmarish trip in the Derby.

"I'm gratified he ran well in the Preakness, and I'm pretty sure he'll run well in the Belmont," Zito said. "Being here definitely helps."

Dollar Bill is another colt whose Triple Crown has been compromised by rough trips. He was stopped three furlongs out in the Derby, then was bothered badly again in the Preakness, yet was finishing fastest of all at the end of the race. His trainer, Dallas Stewart, has remained loyal to jockey Pat Day, insisting that Day was not at fault for those incidents. Stewart said Dollar Bill has emerged unscathed from those races and has continued to train strongly.

"He's like Superman. He's the Teflon horse," Stewart said. "It was a great feeling to see him barrel through the stretch like that in a Triple Crown race," he said, referring to the Preakness.

Thunder Blitz has had a schedule mirroring that of Balto Star and Invisible Ink. He finished fourth of 17 in the Derby, then passed the Preakness to come into the Belmont fresh. Thunder Blitz also figures to improve as he ages. He was born on May 13, meaning he was not even 3 years old on the calendar when he ran in the Derby, and he is a narrow, wiry colt, now weighing 1,082 pounds, according to his trainer, Joe Orseno.

"He weighed 1,019 right after the Derby. I'm really happy with the way he's filled out," Orseno said. "With a little luck, he would have been second in the Derby. And fourth wasn't so bad - there are 13 others who would have liked to have been where he was. He wasn't knocked out after the Derby. He was full of himself. Having five weeks off was a gift for him."

Both Buckle Down Ben and Dr Greenfield are deserved longshots, yet longshot players will find reasons to back both.

Buckle Down Ben is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Belmont four times, including last year with another outsider, Commendable. Buckle Down Ben has tactical early speed, and should be closest to Balto Star in the early going.

Dr Greenfield, a European import who has won three of four starts, is owned by Team Valor, a syndicate whose previous Belmont entrants include My Memoirs, a European invader who finished second to A.P. Indy in 1992.

"This horse is more of a grinder. He has more inherent stamina than My Memoirs," said Barry Irwin, the president of Team Valor. "The year My Memoirs ran, you had two terrific horses in the race - A.P. Indy and Pine Bluff. I like Point Given, but I don't know that you could say he's better than A.P. Indy. Monarchos is good, too, but whether he's better than Pine Bluff is a question. The difference, though, with this race is that there's a lot of depth."