05/23/2002 12:00AM

Sunday Break: This year's spoiler?


ELMONT, N.Y. - War Emblem. He's made believers of us all, or almost all.

With another bravura performance in the Preakness, his chances of winning the first Triple Crown in 24 years look very bright, and the New York Racing Association is making plans to host a record crowd on Belmont Day, June 8.

Still, the Triple Crown remains the most elusive prize in sports. There is almost always a new shooter or two of consequence in the Belmont, and Saturday's $200,000 Peter Pan could be the vehicle that serves up a formidable challenger.

We are alluding to Sunday Break, the Japanese-bred colt by Forty Niner who has won three of his four starts this year and finished a close third in the Wood Memorial. Sunday Break is a development of Hall of Fame horseman Neil Drysdale, who in 1992 saddled A.P. Indy to win the Peter Pan and then wheeled him back two weeks later to win the Belmont. Could history repeat?

"They are different horses," Drysdale said. "A.P. Indy was a more mature horse. He won the Santa Anita Derby and was ready to run in the Kentucky Derby when he had a setback on the eve of the race. His race in the Peter Pan was good and he wound up winning the Belmont. Sunday Break, in contrast, is a late development. He got to the races late last fall and has made steady progress all spring but wasn't ready for the classics. The Peter Pan should tell us if he's ready now. Gary Stevens is his regular rider."

Sunday Break is owned and was bred by Koji Maeda, a major player in Japanese racing, who has about 150 horses in training and an outstanding breeding farm on Hokkaido Island.

A well balanced and attractive colt, Sunday Break has natural cruising speed and can attend just about any pace. He is also able to relax off the pace and has an acceleration that wins races.

The nine-furlong Peter Pan should be a good test for Sunday Break. He faces the Withers Mile winner Fast Decision, whose form has been consistently good, and a rapidly improving colt, Puzzlement, trained by another Hall of Famer, Allen Jerkens.

If Sunday Break can pass this test, he may be able to give War Emblem a battle in the Belmont.