06/07/2002 12:00AM

Brad Free's Belmont analysis


Does the best horse win every race? Of course not. The best horse often is compromised by flawed form, unsuitable distance, or an implied pace deficiency. A single blemish is one too many, but when a low-odds favorite conceivably is burdened by multiple factors, as War Emblem may be, the time is right to shop for a price.

When he won the Spiral in one of the highest-rated Derby preps, Perfect Drift proved he is fast. When he finished third in the Derby, Perfect Drift established his class among the country's top 3-year-olds. But unlike the one-two Derby finishers, Perfect Drift skipped the Preakness to point solely for the Belmont. He is a fresh horse aiming for a race that has been planned for five weeks.

Perfect Drift is bred to stay. He is sired by Dynaformer, whose offspring's average winning distance is more than eight furlongs. Perfect Drift can finish, but he also employs tactical speed to be well-placed irrespective of pace. Perfect Drift is fresh; others may be worn out from the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Better yet, Perfect Drift may start at 5-1 or more. It's a square price on a horse primed for an upset.

Proud Citizen suffered an impossible trip in the Preakness. Fanned wide start to finish, he made a run at the leader, then died the final eighth. It was a huge effort. Can he do it again? The Belmont will be Proud Citizen's fourth start in seven weeks. At some point, he will feel the effects of the campaign. But if he can produce another good one, know this - not much separates Proud Citizen from War Emblem.

War Emblem faces pace pressure first from Wiseman's Ferry, then from Proud Citizen, and finally from Sunday Break. They will attack War Emblem in waves. Too many good horses have gone down in the third leg of the Triple Crown to believe War Emblem is as strong now as he was five weeks ago. Perhaps the best horse will win, but at even-money he is no bargain.

Late-runner Essence of Dubai always threatened to become an important horse, but his Derby chances were eliminated when the pace came up slow and front-runners raced 1-2-3 throughout. Essence of Dubai, like many late-runners in the Derby, simply maintained position. It may be a different story here. Having skipped the Preakness, Essence of Dubai enters the Belmont as a fresh horse eligible to gain a share if the pace comes up legitimate. Because he does his best running late, 12 furlongs is ideal.

Sunday Break won the Peter Pan geared down, but will be underlaid. Magic Weisner will pick up pieces; Like a Hero is not good enough; Medaglia d'Oro has tailed off; Sarava is outclassed; Wiseman's Ferry looks to be a pace casualty.