06/05/2001 11:00PM

There's no need to look beyond one horse


PHILADELPHIA - The most fascinating aspect of Saturday's Belmont Stakes is that, if you try hard enough, you can make a case for nearly every horse in the race.

If Monarchos runs back to the Kentucky Derby, he wins. If A P Valentine has finally re-captured his top form, he can win. If Balto Star, who absolutely will cruise to an uncontested lead, gets the trip, he wins. If Dollar Bill can avoid the rest of the horses and if he's actually fast enough (does anybody really know that?), he can win. If Invisible Ink and Thunder Blitz were not Derby flukes, either could win.

You can also make equally compelling cases why none of the horses in the preceding paragraph can win.

There is only one horse in the race who should win. Point Given was the best 3-year-old in January, February, March, April, and May. The only time he wasn't best was during the slightly more than two minutes it took him to run the Derby.

Point Given is the only horse who does not need any ifs. He's a known commodity. If you believe, as I believe that there are two likely reasons why he ran so poorly in the Derby, you must think like I think. You have to think he's going to win the Belmont.

If Point Given wins the Belmont and goes on to be a superstar (and let's wait on that), Gary Stevens and Bob Baffert will be second guessing themselves forever.

The colt was simply ridden too aggressively in Kentucky. He was too close to that insane pace and had no finish.

There is also the possibility that with just two easy races, the colt just was not ready to deliver his top performance. With the Derby behind him, Point Given was ready to show his best in the Preakness.

If either and especially both of those are true, there is no way to imagine Point Given losing the Belmont.

That middle move in the Preakness with absolutely no pace to run at spoke volumes about the depth of Point Given's talent. And you can forget all the horses "running at him'' in the stretch. Point Given was in cruise control. This is a competitive colt with gears that he has yet to show.

Monarchos was so good in Kentucky that there is a very real chance Point Given could have fired and still gotten beat. Still, it would have been very interesting if Stevens had stayed back and let the early speed run itself into the ground. If you don't think that set it up perfectly for a high-caliber closer like Monarchos, you did not watch the Preakness when the pace scenario was entirely different.

With Balto Star as the lone speed, the Belmont pace should be moderate at best. Point Given proved in the Santa Anita Derby that he can run closer to the pace and keep running, as long as the pace is not insane.

Not that he wants or needs my advice, but I would think Stevens could place Point Given anywhere he wants in the Belmont. Like the Preakness, I suspect Point Given will just get into the race at his own pace. And like the Preakness, I think he will dominate these horses.

Sadly, all of this knowledge will get us almost nothing in the win pool. As the reputation horse, Point Given will be overbet. I would like to offer an alternative, but I don't see one. I see only Point Given.