06/04/2004 12:00AM

Klein's Belmont Stakes analysis


1 Smarty Jones
2 Purge
3 Rock Hard Ten
4 Eddington

It isn't hard to build a case for Smarty Jones. He is 8 for 8. He looked sensational crushing his opponents in the Preakness with an impressive 118 Beyer. He has already soundly beaten the best opponents who will battle him in what shapes up as the softest-looking field he has seen in his bid to win the Triple Crown.

Although he has never raced as far as 1 1/2 miles, judging by the way he kicked home in the Preakness he seems unlikely to come back to his field late. It will be very surprising if he does not win. That said, if an upset is in the cards, who is most likely to beat him? The biggest risk for Smarty Jones is that he might regress following his career-best 118 Beyer. If he runs back to a more typical 107 Beyer, he will face a serious threat from Purge.

Although Purge lost twice to Smarty Jones, the margins were relatively moderate: a 3 1/4-length gap in the Rebel and a 7 1/4-length gap in the Arkansas Derby. Purge is a better horse now than he was then, following an improved performance in a comfortable 6 3/4-length triumph in the Peter Pan. Purge has the tactical speed necessary to stay close to Smarty Jones most of the way. If he takes another step forward today, or if Smarty Jones regresses, Purge can upset him.

Rock Hard Ten is lightly raced and can improve as he makes his fifth career start. But he lost ground steadily to Smarty Jones down the stretch of the Preakness, while losing by 11 1/2 lengths, and will have to hope Smarty Jones runs a poor race if he expects to win. His 59-second breeze May 31 at Belmont, second-fastest of 34 at the distance, is a positive sign.

Eddington has lost three straight, and although he was passing horses when he rallied from eighth to finish third in the Preakness, his margin behind the leader actually increased at every call during that race. The good news is that he has trained strongly since that effort.

The others will have to improve significantly to be a factor. I will bet the cold Smarty Jones-Purge exacta as my main play, with a small saver using Purge over Smarty Jones.