06/03/2002 11:00PM

Quality speedster key to Belmont

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LAS VEGAS - If War Emblem (Our Emblem) is kept preoccupied on the front end in the Belmont Stakes and not allowed to gallop the field to death at 1 1/2 miles, the biggest threat to his Triple Crown hopes is Perfect Drift (Dynaformer), and his undoing may be Wiseman's Ferry (Hennessy).

It seems fair to say we have not yet seen the best of Perfect Drift. Lightly raced, Perfect Drift has a record of three wins, three seconds, and a third in only seven lifetime starts. After narrow defeats by Request for Parole earlier this year, Perfect Drift received a patented Eddie Delahoussaye ride to turn the tables on Request for Parole in a smart-looking victory in the Spiral Stakes.

In the paceless Kentucky Derby, Perfect Drift was completely taken out of his game, running third behind War Emblem and Proud Citizen the entire 1 1/4 miles. Wisely kept out of the Preakness Stakes, Perfect Drift has been training brilliantly for the Belmont, and his pedigree and running style are a perfect fit for 1 1/2 miles.

War Emblem has already outrun his modest pedigree at 1 1/4 miles, and to dismiss his chances at 1 1/2 miles is folly. Despite his impressive victories in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, a victory in the Belmont Stakes is hardly a certainty, mostly because of the unforgiving distance.

War Emblem proved in the Preakness he does not necessarily have to be on the lead, as he tracked California sprinter Menacing Dennis to the far turn before taking over. In the Belmont, he will find himself behind a much better animal in Wiseman's Ferry, runaway winner of the Lone Star Derby who displayed speed and class to overcome a very disadvantageous post.

It would be curious if a son of Hennessy wins the Belmont and his name is not Johannesburg. Wiseman's Ferry chased Johannesburg last year in Europe, but has matured into a serious racehorse this year. While Wiseman's Ferry gets abundant speed from his sire, Hennessy, and damsire, Silver Deputy, his female family is awash in high class. His dam, Emmaus, is a half-sister to three stakes-winning siblings - Bernstein, Caress, and Country Cat. His second dam, La Affirmed (Affirmed), is a three-quarter-sister to Outstandingly (Exclusive Native), 1984's champion 2-year-old filly. The most notable name in Wiseman's Ferry's pedigree, however, is Busanda, an outstanding racehorse who was immortalized as the dam of Buckpasser (Tom Fool). Bred to Nasrullah, Busanda produced Finance, who is Wiseman's Ferry's fourth dam.

If left alone to gallop on an uncontested lead, Wiseman's Ferry - and not War Emblem - could light up the tote board on Saturday. Unlikely as this may seem, Wiseman's Ferry, at the very least, will make War Emblem run harder than he should for the 1 1/2-mile distance and set it up for Perfect Drift.

With stamina influence Dynaformer on top and Naskra on the bottom, Perfect Drift is well suited for 1 1/2 miles. Most importantly, Perfect Drift is not without tactical speed, usually a prerequisite for Belmont winners. Perfect Drift was on the lead in his only two races at 2, and his positional speed has placed him no more than three lengths behind early leaders in all of his races this year. With Wiseman's Ferry and Proud Citizen (Gone West) keeping War Emblem honest, Perfect Drift may be in the best position of all.

I have previously extolled the exceptional pedigree of Proud Citizen (his fourth dam is a full sister to Northern Dancer), but the presence of speed influence Gone West as the sire curbs my enthusiasm for him at 1 1/2 miles, even though Gone West did sire a Belmont winner in Commendable.

Bred to handle the Belmont distance, Essence of Dubai (Pulpit out of champion 2-year-old filly Epitome, by Belmont winner, Summing), was victorious at 1 1/4 miles in Dubai, but has looked like a plodder in this country.

Lightly raced Like a Hero, who was so impressive in winning the overnight Alydar Stakes in his most recent outing at 1 1/8 miles, should relish 1 1/2 miles, being by Pleasant Colony out of a mare by Silver Hawk.

Sarava started his career in Europe and has developed dramatically for trainer Ken McPeek, who started off the year with such high hopes with Repent and Harlan's Holiday. Sarava, who won the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard, is by Wild Again, and is out of a half-sister to Wilderness Song, the 1992 champion older mare in Canada.

Puzzlement is bred to appreciate 1 1/2 miles, but is more likely to show it on grass. By hidden turf sire, Pine Bluff (Danzig), he is out of a mare by Sir Ivor. His classy female family produced Smarten, Quadratic, Homebuilder, Smart Angle, and Houston.

And what to make of Sunday Break? A son of Forty Niner, he may find he Belmont distance beyond his scope. With the exception of Belmont winner Editor's Note, the majority of Forty Niner's offspring have speed and are best up to 1 1/8 miles.

Of course, this is the year of exceptions. A son of sprinter Our Emblem won the Kentucky Derby and a son of speed influence Gone West finished second in the Derby. In this upside-down year, maybe a son of Our Emblem, Gone West, Hennessy, or Forty Niner could win the Belmont. But I'll stick with the Dynaformer.