09/12/2007 11:00PM

A Matron co-anchor in Belmont pick four

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - All summer, the two horses I was most curious to see race were The Green Monkey and Rags to Riches, so Saturday's Belmont card belongs in the top 10 racing days of the year.

The Beyer Speed Figure par for New York's maiden special weight sprints is 88, so it seems like Todd Pletcher has found a good spot for The Green Monkey, whose break-even point will be reduced to a mere $15,968,800 if he can beat five rivals in race 4. Among them, only Roi Maudit (87) has matched par, and his three other dirt races have been well short of the standard.

Rags to Riches' comeback in the Gazelle anchors a Grand Slam wager that begins with the Matron, the Noble Damsel, and the Futurity.

Matron: Since the Beyers have been published, the type of performance required to win has varied widely, from Oh What a Windfall's 74 to Folklore's 99.

Syriana's Song (96) and Proud Spell (95) have put up the fastest figures, and there is a big gap back to the others, but both stretch out to seven furlongs for the first time. Syriana's Song held second after a pace duel first out, and the filly that ran her down, Irish Smoke, returned to win the Spinaway. Proud Spell went 2 for 2 at Delaware Park, and improved significantly with Lasix added second out; by now, bettors in New York have learned to respect the chances of any Larry Jones-trained shipper.

The sleeper could be the maiden, Armonk, who was second choice to Syriana's Song in her debut, and finished third after severe early trouble from the inside post; she drew post 6 in a field of seven this time.

"It's not my style running a maiden in stakes company, but she ran a winning race first time out," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin,who has won with 26 of 78 second-time starters (33 percent) in 2006-07.

Nobel Damsel: Through the last 15 runnings of this turf mile, the Beyer par has been just over 102, and it has taken a figure of at least 95 to win without exception. Pommes Frites ran a 103 setting the pace in last year's renewal, but that was only good enough for second. She drew the far outside post this time, and faces a potential duel with Bayou's Lassie, who has led at the pace call in 5 of 6 turf starts.

How competitive is this edition of the Noble Damsel? Eight of the 10 entered for turf have run figures of exactly 93 in one of their last three turf races.

Futurity: Won by such immortals as Secretariat and Affirmed back in the day, but it has been nearly a decade since it was last won by an important horse (Lemon Drop Kid, 1998). That said, the Beyer par is still a shade over 94, and three of the six juveniles in the field - Tale of Ekati, The Leopard, and Kodiak Kowboy - have already exceeded it.

Advantages in terms of experience and tactics go to Kodiak Kowboy, who has already won three stakes at three tracks. In the Saratoga Special, he broke from the rail and overcame the type of prolonged close-quarters trip that would have discouraged the vast majority of 2-year-olds.

A dyed-in-the-wool stalker, Kodiak Kowboy drew the favorable outside post, in a spot where four of his five rivals exit maiden wins, and the lone exception, Take of Ekati, has been recovering from bucked shins since a runner-up finish in the Sanford.

The Leopard was a visually impressive maiden winner in fast time, though it's a bit disconcerting that the colt he ran down, Immortal Eyes, squandered a clear lead at 1-5 here opening day.

Gazelle: Be one of the first 12,000 through the gates, and you'll receive a "Belle of Belmont - Rags to Riches" button to commemorate the filly's first race following multiple training setbacks since the Belmont Stakes.

Rags to Riches drew ideally on the outside, and could be well short of top form and still beat Dorm Fever, Tough Tiz's Sis, and Le Chateau without breaking a sweat. But the presence of Lear's Princess makes the 112th Gazelle a very interesting race, because Rags to Riches cannot merely throw her past performances on the racetrack and expect the lightly raced and improving Lear's Princess to back off.

Lear's Princess is honed to a fine edge after bang-up seconds in the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama, and her come-from-behind style makes her rail draw irrelevant.

"This is the time to run against Rags to Riches," said McLaughlin. "That said, I still have a lot of respect for her and her connections."

As do we all. I hope Rags to Riches brings down the house, but just in case she has an off day - as Curlin did in the Haskell coming out of that gut-wrenching stretch duel in the Belmont - Lear's Princess is an equal-strength use for me in pick fours.