06/07/2001 12:00AM

Litfin's Belmont Analysis


We have watched them each post big-figure wins and mystifying off-the-board finishes in the Derby and the Preakness, and so now the rubber match between Point Given and Monarchos in the Belmont Stakes becomes a game of "Who Do You Trust?" Or perhaps more accurately, "Guess Who Likes The Track."

In the Belmont, the edge goes to Point Given for a few reasons. He likes to settle into stride early, but by no means is he a plodder. In his last five starts, four of them Grade 1's, Point Given has either been on the lead or within 1 1/2 lengths of the lead at the pre-stretch call. That kind of mid-race speed has the potential of blowing the Belmont apart. By the time the field reaches the far turn, probable pacesetter Balto Star may grow weary, and Point Given may get the jump on several other late runners.

The long-striding Point Given handles the Belmont layout, and he showed last fall in the Champagne and Breeders' Cup Juvenile that he has the resilience to put big races back to back in top company. Moreover, Point Given's Preakness was one of the few 3-year-old stakes this year where the winner did not have things entirely his own way.

The intriguing longshot is Dr Greenfield, from the shrewd outfit who brought us 1992 Belmont runner-up My Memoirs at 18-1; and Thomas Jo, who finished third at 28-1 in 1998.

Like My Memoirs, Dr Greenfield prepped in the Dee Stakes, a potential key race in which he saved ground to the stretch and split rivals to outfinish Grandera, who was subsequently an unlucky third in last week's Group 1 French Derby, beaten less than a length after checking twice in the stretch.

"We bought him [three weeks after his dirt win at Lingfield last November] with the Belmont in mind," said Team Valor's Barry Irwin of Dr Greenfield, who is a two-time winner at 1 1/4 miles. "We've trained him 5 1/2 months for this race."

If Point Given is overbet and Dr Greenfield is 15-1 or better, he becomes an attractive overlay even though he may not be the race's most likely winner. At long odds, Dr Greenfield doesn't have to win for bettors to make a score, thanks to exotic wagering.

A P Valentine won both of his starts at Belmont last fall, including the Champagne, but six subsequent starts have produced just one win, and several discouraging efforts. Still, A P Valentine's runner-up finish in the Preakness was a big step forward, and he is certainly bred to get 1 1/2 miles.

The case for Monarchos is not as clear. His Derby triumph was more impressive visually than the lugging-in Point Given's Preakness, but Monarchos was set up perfectly, and earned his big Beyer on a souped-up surface over which many other horses were running big figs. Generally speaking, big figs are more impressive when they occur on a "normal" track, which seemed to be the case at Pimlico. Monarchos's performances at Churchill and Gulfstream indicate he may be the type who "likes to hear his feet rattle," but seldom is that kind of footing offered at Big Sandy unless it's wet.