06/08/2005 11:00PM

Belmont Stakes analysis

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Giacomo was not as sharp in the Preakness as he was in winning the Kentucky Derby, slowly getting into stride and finishing a distant third behind Afleet Alex and Scrappy T. His relatively dull performance was not altogether a surprise considering that he had produced a career-best effort in the Derby just two weeks earlier.

With a bounce now out of the way, he should respond with a much better performance in the Belmont on three weeks' rest. He appears well suited to the 1 1/2-mile distance, and his even-paced closing style will likely be more effective over Belmont's wide, sweeping turns. Don't underestimate the Derby winner.

Afleet Alex is unquestionably the most likely winner, but he figures to offer no value following a Preakness victory that was one of the most visually impressive in the race's history. His troubled trip, in which he clipped the heels of Scrappy T, will be replayed repeatedly on television in the days leading up to the race. It will be etched in the memories of every bettor analyzing the race. At 6-5 on the track morning line, he figures to drop below that price, likely starting at 3-5 or 4-5. That is too short of a price.

Andromeda's Hero appears best of the rest, if for no other reason than he managed to defeat more than half the field in the Kentucky Derby when eighth. He has trained well in the relative calm of Saratoga Springs in recent weeks, and unlike the top two, he has the benefit of five weeks' rest heading into the Belmont.

In finishing second in last month's Peter Pan Stakes, Reverberate earned a 106 Beyer Speed Figure - the race's second-highest last-race Beyer behind Afleet Alex's 112 Preakness figure. He is a Belmont Park specialist, having recorded two wins and a second in three starts there.

That noted, he has yet to win a stakes anywhere, and regression seemingly looms following a race that was easily the best of his relatively unaccomplished eight-race career. This horse did not even clear the entry-level allowance condition until May 8, the day after the Kentucky Derby.

* Giacomo

* Afleet Alex

* Andromeda's Hero

* ReverberateIf you are looking for a generous payoff in a race, it helps to have a wide-open field. Unfortunately, that isn't the way this Belmont shapes up. There are a total of five Beyer Speed Figures of 100 or higher showing in the past performances of the runners in this field, and Afleet Alex owns three of them, earned from his last five races. Reverberate was given a Beyer Figure of 106 last time when he finished second in the Peter Pan, and Giacomo earned a 100 in a quirky edition of the Kentucky Derby.

Afleet Alex's victory in the Preakness, where he overcame a horrible trip, was sensational, and points him out as the one to beat today. If jockey Jeremy Rose is able to adjust to the pace of the race as it unfolds, the added distance should not be a problem.

Unfortunately, the odds on Afleet Alex in the win pool will be too low to make him worth a bet in that slot. I will look to the exotics instead. Giacomo will be overbet based on his pace-aided Derby win, his weak third-place finish in the Preakness, and the idea that he, as a closer, is better suited than the others to handle the 1 1/2-mile distance. But rather than being an advantage, the fact that he does his best running as a deep closer might actually hinder him if the fractions are mild. I'll see if I can beat him in the bottom slot of this exacta.

Reverberate lost ground late to Oratory in the Peter Pan, but both of them finished faster than par, and no member of this field besides Afleet Alex would have been able to keep up with him that day. He likes Belmont, with a 2-1-0 record from 3 starts, is improving, and can complete this exacta if he runs as well or better today.

If Reverberate regresses, I believe that Chekhov has the potential to finish second at overlaid odds. He didn't run to expectations when he was fourth in the Peter Pan, but his maiden win was impressive enough to suggest that he is capable of better things. He will offer an overlaid price today.

Southern Africa ran an improved race when he won the Lone Star Derby, and will have a chance to nibble in the gimmicks.

Given a $100 bankroll for the race, I'll play $40 exactas keying Afleet Alex over Reverberate and Chekhov, and a $20 exacta keying Afleet Alex over Southern Africa.

* Afleet Alex

* Reverberate

* Chekhov

* GiacomoFour of the last six Belmont winners have paid anywhere from $39.60 to $142.50, which is a signal we're missing something. Conventional analysis in this marathon doesn't work often enough these days, and when it does, you get $4.70 on Point Given. Big deal. Afleet Alex looms a similar paltry price after his standout Preakness effort, but this is a much different kind of race. I have nothing but respect and admiration for Afleet Alex, but he was outfinished in the Kentucky Derby, and that doesn't inspire confidence in his ability to get a mile and a half.

It is also difficult to have much faith in Giacomo, who could not have asked for a better setup in the Derby. He has yet to run a legitimately fast race and seems to be developing into the deepest of deep closers.

Besides Afleet Alex, the only entrant to have matched the Beyer par (106) for the Belmont is Reverberate, who races for Centennial Farms - and whose record is similar to that of Centennial's 1993 Belmont winner, Colonial Affair. They each won their maiden second time out; ran fifth in the Nashua in their final start at 2; ran three improved races with blinkers added in the spring; and did not record a triple-digit Beyer until running second in the Peter Pan with 106's. What's more, trainer Sal Russo was Scotty Schulhofer's assistant at the time.

Reverberate at 6-1 or so is certainly an option, but the interesting upset bomb in the field is Andromeda's Hero. He doesn't look terrific on paper, but how good did Birdstone look last year when he caught Smarty Jones and paid $74?

Nick Zito is orchestrating another sudden improvement a year later with Andromeda's Hero, who comes up to the Belmont in much the same way as Birdstone - held out of the Preakness after an eighth-place finish in the Derby and shipped to Saratoga, where he worked a bullet five furlongs on the relatively deep Oklahoma training track about three weeks later, followed by a longer workout a week after that. It's deja vu all over again, and note that his May 27 bullet in 1:01.60 was fastest of the morning by more than a full second. The third-fastest time, 1:03.20, was posted by Zito's Kentucky Oaks runner-up, In the Gold.

* Andromeda's Hero

* Reverberate

* Afleet Alex

* GiacomoDerby winner Giacomo and Preakness winner Afleet Alex appear to hold a distinct class edge on the rest of the field for this year's Belmont Stakes, and the key to separating the pair perhaps comes down to the Belmont distance and betting value. Giacomo was the stronger of the two down the stretch going 1 1/4 miles in the Derby, and though no match for Afleet Alex shortening up to 1 3/16 miles in the Preakness, he did finish willingly once he extricated himself from traffic in early stretch. Giacomo appears to be holding up well despite the rigors of the Triple Crown campaign.

Afleet Alex is obviously the one to beat, but he did struggle some in late stretch trying to get 1 1/4 miles in the Derby, so there could be some question about his ability to stay the 1 1/2 miles today. In addition, with all the hype coming out of his flirt with disaster in the Preakness, he will undoubtedly be a huge underlay at odds of even-money or less, and there are just enough question marks here to look elsewhere at that kind of price.

Southern Africa held his own with Giacomo and Declan's Moon as a 2-year-old and appears to be in even better form now. I liked the way he persevered despite a wide trip to win the Lone Star Derby and the way he has continued to train since that outing. He might be the sleeper in the field if he is able to handle the added ground.

Andromeda's Hero is the only member of this field aside from the top two who ran in the Derby, and he has the breeding to suggest he may be one of the few still doing any running down the stretch. This is the race for which he has been pointing all along. Reverberate comes off a career-best performance in the Peter Pan but has had only two weeks to recuperate from the effort. He must avoid a bounce and early duel with Pinpoint.

* Giacomo

* Afleet Alex

* Southern Africa

* Andromeda's Hero