06/06/2002 11:00PM

Mike Watchmaker's Belmont analysis

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When Charismatic tried to win the Triple Crown in the 1999 Belmont Stakes, he had a serious rival in Menifee, who arguably should have won that year's Kentucky Derby. When Real Quiet went for the Triple Crown in 1998, he had Victory Gallop, who some people thought should have won that year's Derby. When Silver Charm went for the Triple Crown in 1997, he had Touch Gold, who many thought ran a winning Preakness. When Sunday Silence went for the Triple Crown in 1989, he had Easy Goer, who fell just a nose short in a bitterly fought Preakness, the race that launched this game's greatest rivalry since Alydar and Affirmed, who was last horse to actually win the Triple Crown in 1978.

As War Emblem attempts to become the 12th colt to win the Triple Crown, he has as his rival . . . well, he doesn't have a rival on the order of the last four who tried and failed to take the Triple Crown. There is no one who finished behind War Emblem in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness who you could argue would have beaten him with a more favorable trip, and the new shooters in the Belmont don't look as good as several who finished behind War Emblem in Louisville and Baltimore. That is one reason why I'm picking War Emblem to win the Belmont and complete his Triple Crown run.

War Emblem proved in the Derby that he is a handful when the early pace is moderate, and he proved in the Preakness that he has heart and can still win when denied the early lead and involved in a hot pace. Even with the presence of Wiseman's Ferry and Proud Citizen, who I expect to pull a Sham - press the pace before fading badly, as Sham did in Secretariat's Belmont - I still think the Belmont pace will be controlled. That will play right to War Emblem's strengths, and after sitting a close second or third early, he will have plenty left to repulse the middle and late movers.

Medaglia d'Oro ran well in the Derby to be fourth after trouble, but his distant eighth in the Preakness was a disaster. So, why is he in here? His trainer, Bobby Frankel, is nothing if not patient, as evidenced by all the successful older horses in his barn. If Frankel is going back to the well again with Medaglia d'Oro, it must mean his Preakness is a throw out, and if you can forgive his Preakness, you have a dangerous horse at an overlaid price.

Perfect Drift is logical. His third in the Derby was good, considering he is a closer and was up against it with the slow, uncontested pace. But, he is battling Belmont Stakes history without having had a race since the Derby (Commendable was the only one to win the Belmont since 1960 off such a layoff, and the 2000 Belmont, which he won, was a dreadful race) and the Derby was his only start in the last 11 weeks.