06/06/2002 11:00PM

Steve Klein's Belmont analysis


War Emblem proved in the Kentucky Derby that he can go at least 1 1/4 miles if he is allowed to relax on an uncontested lead. If he is given the luxury of that same pace scenario again, he will win the Belmont at low odds.

In the Preakness, War Emblem showed that he was unwilling to rate kindly under sustained pace pressure. He went too fast early, then finished up slower than par. That was good enough to enable him to hold on at 1 3/16 miles, but that slow come-home time projected out to the 1 1/2-mile Belmont distance would not just prevent him from winning this race. It would also make him vulnerable to the possibility of an out-of-the-money finish.

I believe War Emblem won't be allowed to get loose on slow fractions here, so I will try to capitalize by betting against him to win, and by leaving him out of the exacta, and the trifecta.

My selection to win the Belmont is Magic Weisner. He has quietly turned into a very consistent runner while accumulating six wins and three second-place finishes in his last nine starts. He has been improving steadily, and will be formidable if that trend continues Saturday. He is the only genuine closer in this field with a contending Beyer from his last race, and he can parlay that great trip into an upset triumph in the neighborhood of 15-1.

Proud Citizen is on the upswing. But he has proven in two consecutive races that he cannot stay close to War Emblem early, and then hope to kick past him late. He will need a new strategy for the Belmont. Proud Citizen's advantage over War Emblem is that his running style is more versatile. If Proud Citizen is asked to rate five or six lengths off the pace, rather than only one or two, he might find that War Emblem comes back to him.

Perfect Drift should find himself in good position while rating a few lengths behind the speed, but his mild late bid might not be strong enough to take it all. He will need a well-timed ride from Delahoussaye to get the job done.

I believed that Medaglia d'Oro was overrated in the Preakness, but I didn't expect him to run as poorly as he did while beaten by more than 17 lengths. If he is willing to be more tractable than usual, he can be effective at a square price.

Sarava is sharp now, and might be good enough to add spice to the exotic payoffs with continued progress.

Like a Hero has a good running style, and should be set to run an improved race at long odds while making only his fifth career start.

Sunday Break will be a popular wise-guy horse in this race based on his third-place finish in the Wood. But he was not impressive in his subsequent Peter Pan victory, and must run a much better race to justify his low odds.