06/06/2001 12:00AM

Most Belmont hopefuls should get distance

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LAS VEGAS - It has been billed as the rubber match between the Kentucky Derby winner, Monarchos, and Point Given, winner of the Preakness Stakes, but while they are the headliners, the Belmont Stakes is far from a two-horse race.

Before the Kentucky Derby, there was widespread talk that Point Given would not only win the Derby, but the Triple Crown. After Monarchos won the Derby, there was talk that he would win the Triple Crown. In fact, if the crop is as deep as many believe, there could be three different winners of this year's Triple Crown. This year's Belmont Stakes is unique because of the number of contenders who should be able to handle 1 1/2 miles.

A P Valentine may be ready to fulfill the promise he showed at two. Precocious enough to win the Champagne Stakes over a more experienced Point Given after just breaking his maiden, A P Valentine is truly bred to succeed at classic distances, and the Belmont is made-to-order for him. By 1992 Belmont winner, A.P. Indy, he's out of a mare by Alydar, who finished a gallant second to Affirmed in one of the greatest Belmonts of all time. Playing catch-up all spring, A P Valentine silenced his critics by finishing second to Point Given in the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes is played on his home turf, where he is unbeaten in two starts.

Dollar Bill is from the first crop of Canadian horse of the year Peaks and Valleys, who was proficient at middle distances. By stakes sprinter Mt. Livermore, Peaks and Valleys inherited stamina from his damsire, Green Dancer, and has transmitted it to his offspring. Dollar Bill's female family has produced quality stayers, such as Bates Motel and Optimistic Gal.

Invisible Ink is out to prove that his second in the Derby was no fluke. Invisible Ink is by a Belmont winner (Thunder Gulch) out of a dam by a Belmont winner (Conquistador Cielo) who sprinted 1 1/2 miles in the slop.

Dr Greenfield, the European challenger, is the mystery horse of the Belmont, and cannot be dismissed based on pedigree. By Epsom Derby winner Dr Devious, he is from a female line cultivated by Paul Mellon. In fact, his second dam, Emerald Reef, is a full sister to European champions Diamond Shoal and Glint of Gold as well as group winner Crystal Spirit, the dam of Catella, a champion in Germany. While the immediate males in his pedigree scream turf (Dr Devious, Green Forest, Mill Reef, Graustark), Dr Greenfield has won on the dirt in Europe and his classy female family makes him difficult to ignore at a price.

Buckle Down Ben is by Devil His Due, a miler at three who matured into a middle distance horse at four. Buckle Down Ben inherits speed from his damsire, Flying Paster (Gummo), and his second dam, Shady Hill, is a full sister to Hill Shade, the dam of two high-class runners, champion J.O. Tobin and Mysterious, winner of the Epsom Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks, and 1000 Guineas.

Thunder Blitz (Holy Bull) and Balto Star (Glitterman) are talented runners who have distance limitations. Both are by sires known for their speed and the Belmont distance would seem well beyond their scope.

If they fire their best shot, Monarchos and Point Given should provide quite a show. Both are bred to handle 1 1/2 miles, and the wide, sweeping turns at Belmont Park play into their strengths.

Monarchos is from the first crop of Maria's Mon, a champion at two who was compromised by injury before the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. By Wavering Monarch (Majestic Light) out of a Caro mare, Maria's Mon was bred to be more effective at longer distances (especially on the turf), and there is plenty of class in his female family. His second dam, Water Malone (Naskra), is a multiple stakes winner of nearly $500,000 and is a half-sister to Marfa, winner of the Santa Anita Derby and Jim Beam Spiral Stakes. This female family also produced major 2-year-old filly Process Shot. Monarchos's female family is vintage Darby Dan breeding, which means it is full of classic influences. His third dam, Regal Road (Graustark) is a half-sister to Andover Way, the dam of Dynaformer. Other quality runners from this family include Darby Creek Road, Ryafan, and Memories of Silver. Monarchos will love 1 1/2 miles.

Like Monarchos, Point Given is bred to excel at a route from both sides of his pedigree. His sire, Thunder Gulch, has risen to the upper echelon of stallions with only two crops to race (excluding his current crop of 2-year-olds). He has sired 16 stakes winners, including Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Spain. In addition to Point Given, Thunder Gulch's second crop includes Invisible Ink, second in the Kentucky Derby, and multiple stakes winner, Mystic Lady. His runners are most effective stretching out on dirt and grass.