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Win margins leave room for doubt on 'Charm' bid Among others with shot, 'Crypto' attractive bet; Belmont notebook

ELMONT, N.Y. — ELMONT, N.Y. -- As Silver Charm attempts to become the 12th Triple Crown-winner in history, you might ask: Is he two feet great? Or two feet lucky?

That's about the total margin by which he edged Captain Bodgit in the Kentucky Derby and Free House in the Preakness. He would be a more appealing selection in the Belmont if his past performances showed one race -- any race -- in which he ran off and dominated his opponents.

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In eight races, he has won five and finished second three times -- impressive enough. But he won those five, in order, by 1 1/4 lengths, a head, 1 3/4 lengths, a head and a head.

"He's definitely a great horse. He's already proven that," said his trainer, Bob Baffert. "But I don't think he'll ever win by a huge margin. He'll wait on horses."

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That unsettling trait almost cost him the Preakness. He drew aside Free House, but wouldn't, or couldn't, go by -- until Captain Bodgit loomed up on the outside. Then Silver Charm thrust forward and won by the bob of a head.

Such reluctance is not a confidence-builder in a 1 1/2 -mile race. But if you believe that Silver Charm is vulnerable, whom do you choose to beat him?

Start with Free House, his pursuer in the Derby and Preakness. He's the most lovable horse in the race -- a character with pricked ears, roving eyes and a sweet trainer and owners.

But if Silver Charm, who is bred for distance, is vulnerable after a tough 1997 campaign, isn't Free House, who is modestly bred and has waged the same campaign? And can Free House, the quickest horse in the field, conserve his speed for the long run down the Belmont's quarter-mile homestretch?

The Frank Stronach entry of Touch Gold and Wild Rush will likely be the second choice -- and some believe the possible favorite. Touch Gold scored a courageous fourth in the Preakness after a nightmarish trip when he stumbled at the start and then, after racing into contention, got blocked a couple of times behind horses.

Wild Rush won the Illinois Derby in track-record time, but this is only his sixth race. Is he seasoned enough? And has Touch Gold recovered from a nasty hoof gash suffered in the Preakness?

But consider this: For one bet (common ownership means if you bet one, you get both), you get these two horses with great promise, plus two top California trainers (Dave Hofmans and Richard Mandella) and two of the nation's top big-race jockeys (Chris McCarron and Jerry Bailey).

Crypto Star hasn't raced since the Derby, when he drew the unpopular No. 1 hole, was trapped along the deep rail and still finished fewer than seven lengths behind Silver Charm. His trainer, Wayne Catalano, loves his chances in the Belmont.

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He's a closer and, of the horses with appealing odds, the one most likely to score an upset.

Links to Maryland

Several members of the Belmont Stakes supporting cast have ties to Maryland. Punch Line, a son of Two Punch trained by Billy Turner, competes in the $100,000 six-furlong True North Handicap. Racing in Maryland, Delaware, Florida and New York, Punch Line has won five of his last six.

The Maryland-bred Smoke Glacken, another son of Two Punch, headlines the $100,000 seven-furlong Riva Ridge Stakes. Making his first start since finishing second April 20 in the 1 1/16-mile Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, Smoke Glacken is one of the nation's best sprinters -- if not the best.

For the $200,000, 1 1/4 -mile Manhattan Handicap on turf, Maryland trainer Bill Boniface sends Ops Smile, dramatic winner of the Grade II Dixie at Pimlico on Preakness day.

Adding up

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If all seven horses start in the Belmont, the race will be worth $721,000, with $432,600 going to the winner. Second place will be worth $144,200, third $79,310, fourth $43,260 and fifth $21,360.

Pub Date: 6/07/97


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