06/04/2003 11:00PM

Belmont Stakes analysis


Based on the speed figures they have run so far, Dynever is several lengths slower than Funny Cide and Empire Maker. But the predictive value of speed figures lessens considerably at a 1 1/2 miles, where the intangible qualities of stamina and endurance can take precedence. In the Belmont, fresh, lightly raced horses with long-distance pedigrees can surpass their previous form.

Dynever gives the impression that we have only seen a brief glimpse of his potential. From a visual perspective, no 3-year-old colt - no one - has been more impressive than Dynever, who has won all three of his two-turn starts with a lengthening stride in deep stretch.

Neither of Dynever's stakes wins was accomplished with an easy trip. Against winners for the first time in the Aventura, he was forced to go very wide rallying on the far turn, and then he shifted into another gear in midstretch to leave a more seasoned rival in the dust.

Dynever then received a relatively low figure in the Lone Star Derby, but it's impossible to quantify just how fast he might have run had he not been blocked for an eighth of a mile. Surrounded from all sides, he responded the instant a hole finally opened, and galloped out strongly past the wire.

This horse loves to run, and he gives the impression he can run as long as it takes to wear you down.

Christophe Clement may not be a household name outside the fraternity of serious handicappers, but that doesn't matter. No one has a stronger background for preparing a horse to go 12 furlongs. Clement has saddled more than 135 stakes winners in the past 10 years, and many of their victories were marathons on the turf. The Belmont has been Clement's long-range goal for Dynever since the winter, and he has some real talent to work with here.

It's hard to separate Empire Maker and Funny Cide, who split decisions in the Wood and the Derby. After 19 combined furlongs, the total margin between them is a bit more than a length.

Only one horse in the past 50 years has won the Belmont after running in the Derby and taking five weeks off. That's what Empire Maker will be trying to do. It's an unorthodox approach, but it's hard to argue with Bobby Frankel's results the past several years.

Whether Empire Maker can stay for 12 furlongs is a legitimate question. His last three-eighths in the Florida Derby was ordinary; in the Wood he was all over the place in the late stages; in the Kentucky Derby he loomed like a sure winner turning for home but flattened out and barely caught Peace Rules.

The expectation is that Empire Maker will be put into the race much earlier than in the Derby. That could spell trouble for Funny Cide, who blazed through last Tuesday's five-furlong workout as if tightly wound and looking for a fight. At this distance, being on the muscle can be good . . . or it can be an Achilles' heel.

Ten Most Wanted's Illinois Derby figure suggests he can get a piece of this, and he has had the luxury of training in sunny California while his rivals dealt with wet weather and off tracks.