05/31/2002 12:00AM

No Armistice ready to make up for lost time


PHOENIX - The early indications were that No Armistice was going to have a fine career for trainer Ron Ellis. That hasn't exactly panned out so far, but it's not too late for him to make a splash.

A 5-year-old son of Unbridled, No Armistice recently came back from a year layoff with a monster score at Keeneland and now sets his sights on bigger game: Sunday's Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap at six furlongs, which is expected to bring the return of champion sprinter Kona Gold.

Kona Gold breezed a half-mile in 46.80 seconds Tuesday at Santa Anita, the latest in a series of fast workouts. "He's doing great. He's ready to go," trainer Bruce Headley said.

No Armistice certainly looks ready to go, too. He hinted at big-time ability as a 3-year-old, but didn't fulfill on the promise. His return at Keeneland in a six-furlong allowance race was a seven-length win that earned a 112 Beyer Figure. That race seemed to confirm No Armistice has top talent.

"He just worked three-quarters in 1:12 and change Tuesday at Santa Anita, so he's set," Ellis said.

"I gave him a year off because his knees were bothering him, but he's always been a pretty good horse. He has a tendency to flip his palate the times we tried to stretch him out, so we're going to keep him short for now."

That's probably a good idea. Despite being by Unbridled, who is well known for his ability to pass on stamina, No Armistice seems more comfortable around one turn. If he can maintain his Keeneland form, or possibly even make another forward move, he can give Kona Gold trouble, particularly because he gets 10 pounds in weight.

Kona Gold's presence will surely help the price on No Armistice. Kona Gold is no doubt the best horse, but considering he has lost three straight races, perhaps time has begun to catch up with him.

Even if Kona Gold doesn't go, the presence of other fine sprinters ensures No Armistice will still be a betting price. He may not be the best horse in the race, but he may well be the best bet.

Sunday Break Belmont bet-against

It's my expectation that next week at this time we will be celebrating a Triple Crown winner. War Emblem has impressed me with his speed, agility, and athleticism. The way he has continued to work, I believe he will prevail.

There's more good news: The presence of a number of new shooters makes the Belmont a playable race. New challengers like Sunday Break, Puzzlement, Wiseman's Ferry, and Sarava, and the reappearance of Perfect Drift and maybe Medaglia d'Oro, give you all kinds of wagering options.

Because of that, some prices may float up. War Emblem figures to be in the even-money range, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Sunday Break were the second choice at 7-2 or 4-1. His Peter Pan win, Wood effort, and the publicity he has received - and the fact his connections used this same path to win the Belmont with A.P. Indy - make him very much the wiseguy horse.

But is Sunday Break really that good? He has yet to beat a top horse. While his Peter Pan win was nice, it earned just a 99 Beyer, and the horses he beat aren't stars. Puzzlement has only cleared the N2X level, and third-place finisher Deputy Dash has yet to beat winners. Sure, Sunday Break could have run faster, and it appeared rider Gary Stevens allowed him to run only in the final quarter-mile. But even if he improves to, say, a 102 or 103 Beyer, that leaves him well behind the 112, 114, and 109 that War Emblem has earned in his last three races. It also leaves him behind a few others who may be more attractive prices in the Belmont.

The other question mark is Magic Weisner. His "rally" for second in the Preakness seemed to be an illusion - the race had already been won. The others had fallen back, and War Emblem was understandably tired. But if you watched the gallop-out, you saw that War Emblem never let Magic Weisner get by him, or get any closer for that matter. After being a big price in the Preakness, Magic Weisner, too, may be overbet in the Belmont.

So a week ahead of time, my tentative Belmont plan is a $2 trifecta with War Emblem over Proud Citizen (likely to be an overlay), Perfect Drift (his Derby third was excellent), Medaglia d'Oro, Artax Too (I like the way he finishes), and Puzzlement (he finished not far behind Sunday Break). Should Medaglia d'Oro not go, I will put Sunday Break in his place, just in case there's more under the hood than he has shown. That tri play costs $40.