06/06/2006 12:00AM

Sunriver has the quality to win

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LAS VEGAS - At a Belmont Stakes Day seminar last year with Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker and Dave Litfin, we all pretty much agreed it was a done deal: Afleet Alex was by far the class of the field; underachiever Andromeda's Hero was finally getting a distance he craved; and it was the "all" button for third.

Having such conviction paid off handsomely after Afleet Alex ($4.30) won off by seven lengths in a powerhouse performance. Andromeda's Hero (11-1), who was coming off an eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, did put in the best performance of his career, finishing second by 6 3/4 lengths over Nolan's Cat (20-1). The $2 exacta returned $44, and the $2 trifecta returned $1,249.

As usual, the key to the Belmont is its demanding 1 1/2-mile distance. Naturally, as a pedigree handicapper, I will base my selections on class and the likelihood that a horse will do his best running at this distance.

While the race lacks Derby winner Barbaro and Preakness winner Bernardini, it is an unusual Belmont field in that many of the colts have shown high quality and have been pointing for this race.

In the Derby, Barbaro was my key, with Steppenwolfer, Jazil, A. P. Warrior, and Point Determined underneath in exactas and trifectas. But, of course, I was burned by a resurgent Bluegrass Cat, who finished second at 30-1.

Sunriver's time to shine

One colt I was hoping to include in the Derby was Sunriver, but he was excluded because he lacked sufficient graded earnings. It may have been a blessing in disguise, however, because nothing was going to beat Barbaro that day.

Sunriver is my Belmont Stakes selection.

Despite an extremely wide trip in the Florida Derby, Sunriver finished a game third to Barbaro and returned to win the Peter Pan Stakes over a stubborn Lewis Michael. Off a seven-week layoff, Sunriver obviously needed the Peter Pan, and it was a perfect prep for the Belmont.

Although he is not particularly bred to love 1 1/2 miles, Sunriver has a pedigree that is sufficient to win at this distance. He is by the late Saint Ballado, a stakes-winning full brother to champion 2-year-old Devil's Bag.

Devil's Bag was a flashy colt who showed much more talent than Saint Ballado on the track, but their roles were reversed at stud. Devil's Bag received only the highest quality broodmares, and although he sired stakes winners, he was only moderately successful as a stallion. Conversely, Saint Ballado was not afforded the same high-class mares, but he got off to a good start at stud, siring 1997 Derby runner-up Captain Bodgit in his first crop.

Flame Thrower, Straight Man, Sweetsouthernsaint, Yankee Victor, and Sister Act all were stakes winners by Saint Ballado who were basically milers, but many of his offspring have enjoyed success at classic distances.

Saint Ballado is the sire of Ashado, a full sister to Sunriver and a two-time champion whose many Grade 1 victories included the 1 1/4-mile Coaching Club American Oaks, and Saint Liam, last year's Horse of the Year, who capped off a brilliant season with an impressive victory in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic.

As I noted in previous columns, Sunriver is also a double RF (Rasmussen Factor), as he is exquisitely inbred to two influential females - Cosmah and her dam, Almahmoud - within five generations. This distinctive pedigree pattern magnifies the most important aspect of a Thoroughbred's pedigree, class in the dam, and usually results in a high-quality individual.

Jazil: Quality on both sides

Jazil is by Seeking the Gold, a colt with dizzying speed whom Shug McGaughey trained to be a star at 1 1/4 miles. Runner-up to the older Alysheba as a 3-year-old in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Classic, Seeking the Gold is a world-class sire. He produced top-class fillies Heavenly Prize, Flanders, Seeking the Pearl, Pleasant Home, Cash Run, and Dream Supreme, and his best son was Dubai Millennium, a champion in England and Horse of the Year in the United Arab Emirates.

Another RF, Jazil is inbred to 1954 Broodmare of the Year Traffic Court, who produced two high-quality racehorses, Hasty Road and Traffic Judge. Hasty Road, the 1953 2-year-old champion, went on to win the Preakness, and Traffic Judge was a stakes winner at 2, 3, and 4. Both had remarkable careers as stallions, and inbreeding to these half-brothers has resulted in Jazil.

The power of the Rasmussen Factor in this year's Belmont is further underscored by Bluegrass Cat.

While Bluegrass Cat is not an RF, his dam, She's a Winner, is an RF. She's a Winner is inbred 5x5 to the influential broodmare Glamour, whose third dam is the legendary La Troienne. She's a Winner was unraced, but is a full sister to stakes winners Daydreaming and Accelerator, who finished second to Captain Bodgit in the Wood Memorial. Other noted stakes winners inbred to Glamour are Heritage of Gold and Anguilla.

Steppenwolfer will relish distance

Finally, there is Steppenwolfer, who is actually the colt who should love 1 1/2 miles more than anyone. Steppenwolfer is from the first crop of Aptitude, who was second in the 2000 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and won the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup by 10 lengths. Aptitude was not only by Belmont and Breeders' Cup Classic winner A.P. Indy, his entire pedigree was geared for the classics. His damsire, Northern Dancer, won the Derby and Preakness, and his dam, Dokki, was a half-sister to Belmont winner Coastal and champion Slew o' Gold. Steppenwolfer's dam is by Wolf Power, who descends from Round Table, and his second dam descends from Hail to Reason. There is no shortage of staying power in Steppenwolfer's pedigree.

* Selections: Sunriver, Steppen-wolfer, Jazil, Bluegrass Cat.