06/07/2002 12:00AM

Dave Litfin's Belmont analysis


When Perfect Drift enters the gate for the Belmont he will have had just one race in 11 weeks. It's a sign of the times: Many stables have adopted a fresher-is-better mentality. Belmont starters who ran big races after running in the Derby and skipping the Preakness include winner Commendable (2000) and runners-up Thirty Six Red (1990) and Kissin Kris (1993).

Perfect Drift sports a terrific development line of steady and consistent improvement. When he earned his first triple-digit Beyer in the Spiral he was the only winner on a 12-race card not positioned among the top three at the first call, yet he won under hand urging from Eddie Delahoussaye, who is still among the top sit-still riders in the game. Perfect Drift was at a tactical disadvantage in the Kentucky Derby, which was the slowest-fractioned route race of his career, and missed second by less than a length despite steadying inside the winner turning for home and losing momentum at a crucial juncture.

The fresh Perfect Drift has a suitable long-distance pedigree, and may get a more favorable pace set-up this time.

If Perfect Drift isn't able to deny War Emblem a Triple Crown, perhaps it will be Proud Citizen. He was running for the fourth time in 42 days in the Preakness after getting a late start this spring, and may appreciate the three weeks of rest since the Preakness. Aficionados of sheet-style figures will note that Proud Citizen, by virtue of a very wide Preakness trip, actually earned a better number for the race than did War Emblem.

The knocks on Proud Citizen are: a) both his wins have been wire to wire, and there is plenty of pace in this field; b) his pedigree for 1 1/2 miles is a bit suspect; and c) he can be a bad actor around the gate.

The key question with the fast and tenacious War Emblem is whether there's enough left in the tank after three big figures in a row.

He's just going to be too short a price to find out. Remember that he is a ticking time bomb, with chips in two ankles and one knee, and that rider Victor Espinoza was a mere 1 for 28 at Belmont's fall 2001 meet, his one win coming aboard Officer at $2.60.

More ominously, War Emblem will find that Wiseman's Ferry is a high-quality early pace rival, much more so than what passed for early opposition in the first two legs of the Crown, and that Medaglia d'Oro is probably going to be aggressively handled, because his best races have come on the front-end.

It's difficult to get a true line on Sunday Break, because the last two races we've seen from him were both preps for other races. He can be a factor with moderate improvement.