06/05/2002 12:00AM

Only a disaster can derail him now


PHILADELPHIA - In the world of the Beyers, War Emblem is what we call an omni-fig. His last three Beyers are all better than any other horse in the Belmont Stakes field has ever earned.

War Emblem is so clearly the best horse in the race that only very bad luck, rider error, or injury should be able to beat him in the Belmont.

What about the distance? Well, what about it? Nobody knows what that means. So why even worry about it?

What about War Emblem's early record? Well, what about that?

Upon closer examination, it's not so bad. He won his first start. He didn't fire on the grass. He won his next start. He got caught in a speed duel and tired after a two-month layoff. His connections tried to rate him in the Risen Star and admitted they made a mistake. The colt hasn't lost since.

What about the finish of the Preakness? Get the tape. War Emblem was several lengths in front during the gallop out. Magic Weisner never passed him.

War Emblem is fast. He can sustain his speed. He has early speed, which keeps him out of trouble. He has never been passed with the lead in the stretch. There is absolutely no reason to think this horse won't be the 12th Triple Crown winner.

Other than the history.

If Spectacular Bid can lose the Belmont Stakes, any horse can lose it.

Still, War Emblem has really dominated this Triple Crown. He has beaten 26 different horses in the two races. He has beaten three horses twice. Six new horses will try him in the Belmont. Only two of them, Sunday Break and Wiseman's Ferry, have even won graded stakes. Each has won one.

Other than War Emblem, there are just three others with true early speed. War Emblem has already outrun Proud Citizen and Medaglia d'Oro twice for the lead. Unless the connections of those two horses plan to make an all-out run for the lead (not a likely scenario) or Wayne Lukas instructs Mike Smith on Proud Citizen to make certain War Emblem does not win (not an impossible scenario), there is no reason to think War Emblem won't be in front of them again.

Wiseman's Ferry is the X factor. He wasn't fast at all in Europe, but has shown high speed in three American starts. Is he fast enough to make the top? Possibly. Is he talented enough to win? Not likely. His biggest win came over Tracemark, a colt who has never been a factor against the best in the West. And there is at least a chance that Wiseman's Ferry won't be sent to the front. Stranger things have happened when people are concerned about distance capability.

Billy Turner is the only man alive who has trained a Triple Crown winner. He understood Seattle Slew's strength and never tried to change it.

"I just hope when I come along with another good horse, somebody else that has a good horse like that is trying to teach him how to rate.'' Turner said. "I'll let mine run.''

Turner was not talking specifically about War Emblem, but he could have been. This is no time to think too much. Just let the big horse run. If he's good enough, he will carry his speed all the way.

The single most lethal combination in this sport is speed and courage. War Emblem has already shown he has it. His 11 Belmont Stakes opponents have not.