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How the experts see the Belmont

Steve Davidowitz

In my judgment, Silver Charm's most compelling credential for a Triple Crown sweep is the fact that he has narrowly beaten very good horses in very tight races in which an extra effort was required. Rather than sapping his energy, these hard-fought efforts have identified him as a rare colt who thrives on hard work and tough competition. That precisely is what helped Affirmed beat Alydar when he was the last of 11 horses in racing history to pull off the most difficult hat trick in all of sport.

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For the past three weeks, Silver Charm has trained far from view at Churchill Downs. But, on Thursday morning he showed up at Belmont for a light gallop with no loss of body weight, no sign of soreness or lack of energy. This is remarkable all by itself.

By contrast, Touch Gold -- the gifted horse who entered the Triple Crown picture in the Preakness with an electrifying, fourth-place finish after a disastrous start -- has missed important training and has been hard to control in all his morning gallops. This hardly suggests a sustained winning run against a classy opponent in a 1 1/2 -mile race. A good showing may be possible, but anything better than third would be as remarkable as his stop-and-go, highly troubled Preakness run.

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Wild Rush is another talented colt in expert hands moving up in class and distance, but it would be a surprise to see him stay with Free House and Silver Charm when the real test begins to unfold entering the far turn.

Free House has looked terrific here at Belmont, but could not hold off Silver Charm in the shorter Preakness.

Captain Bodgit will be missed in this Belmont. Taking his place is the underrated stretch runner Crypto Star, who has trained much better here than he did in Louisville. As the one true closer in the field, he could pass them all if the pace gets red hot.

Yet, at the bottom line, trainer Bob Baffert has handled Silver Charm beautifully throughout the series and Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens is the perfect pilot in a tactical race that Silver Charm could win by daylight.

Steve Davidowitz is editor of the National Racing Report, an internet-based handicapping newsletter (http: //www.nationalrace.com). He picked the winning trifectas in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Steve Haskin

When I made my picks for the Daily Racing Form on Wednesday, it was seconds after being awakened from an afternoon siesta by my editor. All my groggy mind could come up with was Silver Charm, more out of sentiment than anything else.

Now that I am of sound mind, I'll tell it like it is. The Belmont Stakes is not a race you can sit down and handicap. You either like the Triple Crown horses or you feel they are regressing, in which case you look for a fresh horse.

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To me, the Belmont winner normally does not come into view until the Thursday or Friday before the race, and that has held true this year. While Silver Charm obviously is the horse to beat, I'm making a last-minute switch and going with Free House. In fact, I love him.

He missed by a head in the Preakness, despite Kent Desormeaux's losing focus and not being as aggressive as he should have been in the final sixteenth. He was paying too much attention to Touch Gold, constantly looking over his left shoulder, and threw too many crosses (crossing the reins for better control and balance) on the horse in the stretch. At the finish, he was looking away from Silver Charm for some reason.

Although both horses have maintained their flesh beautifully through the Triple Crown, Silver Charm appears a bit lighter than he did in Kentucky and Baltimore, while Free House seems to be filling out. His final gallop yesterday was as good as any I've seen during the Triple Crown. Silver Charm being a little lighter is not really a negative. He is more heavily muscled than Free House and was packing more baby fat, so trimming down a little should have him tighter and more finely tuned.

After working another scorcher (five furlongs in 58 3/5) last week, Free House came back on Monday and did it just the way trainer Paco Gonzalez wanted. Exercise rid- er Sal Gonzalez kept Free House way out in the middle of the track, as if he were galloping, and had the colt under restraint through the stretch. Free House threw his ears back and forth and was just playing, but still covered the distance in a solid 1: 01 3/5. This horse is ready to run a monster race.

Steve Haskin is the lead Triple Crown correspondent for the Daily Racing Form.

Mike Watchmaker

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The big question going into today's Belmont Stakes is: Does Silver Charm deserve to join the select company of the 11 before him who have swept the Triple Crown?

Sorry to say, but the answer from this corner is "No!" Silver Charm isn't a Secretariat, a Citation or a Seattle Slew. The Belmont has a way of defeating those Triple Crown aspirants who aren't. Just ask Sunday Silence or Alysheba, in whose neighborhood Silver Charm more likely resides. Of course, that isn't exactly the wrong side of the tracks. Both were Horses of the Year.

The problem is there are precious few alternatives to Silver Charm. The opinion here is Free House laid it all on the line in the Preakness and will come up flat. Crypto Star has been pointed for this, but isn't quite good enough to win. Mr. Energizer and Irish Silence are seriously overmatched. Captain Bodgit would have been the pick because he made up a dozen lengths in the Preakness on a speed-favoring track only to fall two heads short. I'd love to bet him, but he was retired 2 1/2 weeks ago.

So the only place to turn is to Touch Gold, who had a "nightmare" trip in the Preakness. Sure, the fact that the whole world saw him stumble and check all over Pimlico will suppress his odds. On the other hand, his quarter crack will have an opposite effect. And, don't let that quarter crack worry you. A.P. Indy romped in the Belmont five years ago on a worse one.

What's going to happen is Wild Rush, who isn't exactly chopped liver, will ensure an honest pace for Touch Gold, who does his business from off the pace. Touch Gold also has a quicker turn of foot than Silver Charm. Because a Touch Gold-Silver Charm exacta will barely buy a coffee at Starbucks, the hope here is that when Touch Gold blows to the lead on the far turn, Silver Charm will lose interest and Crypto Star will eventually clunk up for second.

That's really the best way, from a betting standpoint, to turn this Belmont into a money-making deal. Toss Silver Charm, because he only won the Derby and Preakness, and take the Touch Gold-Crypto Star number for value.

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Mike Watchmaker is oddsmaker for the New York Racing Association.

Pub Date: 6/07/97


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