06/05/2002 11:00PM

New shooters rarely win

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ELMONT, N.Y. - In theory, it sounds good.

A late-developing 3-year-old skips the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and is a fresh, fit, and dangerous threat in the Belmont Stakes against those supposed worn-out horses.

In reality, it hasn't worked as often as one might think. In the last 60 years, a newcomer to the Triple Crown has won the Belmont 13 times. Six of those horses stopped Triple Crown bids.

In Saturday's 134th Belmont Stakes, there will be five new shooters to the Triple Crown, all seeking to deny Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem his Triple Crown and place in history.

Since Colonial Affair won it in 1993, the Belmont has only been won by a horse that ran in either the Derby or Preakness or both. Of the 35 fresh faces that have run in the Belmont since then, only three - My Flag (1996), Thomas Jo (1998), and Unshaded (2000) - finished as high as third.

Most fresh faces that show up in the Belmont are hopeless longshots. Of the 35 newcomers that ran in the last eight Belmonts, only six were under 10-1 (not including entries).

This year, the hot new shooter is Sunday Break, the Peter Pan Stakes winner, who could very well go off as the second betting choice behind War Emblem. Since 1951, the Peter Pan has produced nine Belmont winners, most recently Lemon Drop Kid (1999).

Handicappers will note that in 1992 Neil Drysdale, the trainer of Sunday Break, won the Peter Pan and Belmont with A.P. Indy, who was scratched from the Derby with a bruised foot the morning of the race.

Drysdale will be the first to tell you these are two entirely different horses. A.P. Indy was already a multiple Grade 1 winner by the time the Triple Crown series rolled around. He was the second choice behind Arazi on the Derby morning line.

Until he won the Peter Pan, Sunday Break's claim to fame was a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial. He failed to make it into the oversubscribed Derby field due to insufficient graded-stakes earnings.

To many observers, Sunday Break looked a lot better physically in winning the Peter Pan than he did training in Louisville for the Derby. Based on Sunday Break's pedigree, and his ability to relax, Drysdale believes the colt is a prime candidate to get the 12 furlongs of the Belmont.

"His last three races have been at nine furlongs," Drysdale said. "He's always galloped out well. He relaxes very well. I have to believe he'll go a mile and a half. [A.P. Indy] was more advanced. This fellow is a developing horse, but he does appear to be going the right way."

As a 2-year-old, Wiseman's Ferry was a stablemate of Johannesburg, and finished second behind that eventual two-continent juvenile champion in a six-furlong turf stakes at The Curragh.

Wiseman's Ferry was one of three horses purchased in a package by Morton Fink, Lee Sacks, and Don and Dana Myers. Wiseman's Ferry did not make his 3-year-old debut until March 16 when he finished third in a seven-furlong allowance race. He won a Keeneland allowance, gate to wire in the slop, before winning the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby in similar fashion.

Nevertheless, trainer Niall O'Callaghan cautions those who assume his horse will be the one to apply early pressure to War Emblem.

"I think the horse is very capable of relaxing," O'Callaghan said. "What I loved about his Keeneland race was his ears were up going down the backside. He's quite capable of relaxing if he needs to. If he couldn't relax then he's got no shot to run 1 1/2 miles. In the Lone Star Derby he was used because he needed to."

When Wiseman's Ferry won an April 14 allowance race at Keeneland, the horse he defeated was Sarava, who came back to win the Sir Barton Stakes authoritatively in his next start.

Ken McPeek, who trained Derby favorite Harlan's Holiday, picked up Sarava before heading to Florida for the winter. A son of Wild Again, Sarava was hampered by a severe quarter crack that delayed his 3-year-old debut until April. After running second to Wiseman's Ferry in the slop at Keeneland, Sarava again finished second in a sloppy allowance race at Churchill Downs before romping in the Sir Barton. Sarava has yet to run beyond 1 1/16 miles, but McPeek said more distance is what the horse wants.

"I think he deserves a shot. I think he'll like a distance, no problem," McPeek said. "The question is, how good is he? He was finishing fast in the Sir Barton. I'm not intimidated by this group. This horse is on the improve; maybe Harlan's Holiday wasn't. Maybe Harlan's Holiday was tailing off."

With only four starts, Like a Hero is the least experienced horse in the field. After losing a Feb. 18 maiden race by a head, Like a Hero reeled off three straight wins in distances from a mile to 1 1/8 miles. His 1 1/2-length victory in the Alydar Stakes on May 23 at Hollywood was his most impressive performance.

"We don't have the seasoning the others do, and definitely that's a disadvantage," trainer Beau Greely said. "At the same time, he's pretty fresh, which at the end of the day I'd rather have a fresh horse. If he were ready as a 2-year-old, he'd have been in the Derby. It's just his time to come around now. I do believe he's good enough to win it, or get a piece of it anyway."

Artax Too figures to be the longest shot in the 12-horse field. He has won his last two races for owner Ernie Paragallo, who believes his horse is a "true two-turn horse. I think he'll love the distance," Paragallo said.