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Friday, June 10, 2005
Belmont Stakes day picks

By Ed McNamara
Special to ESPN.com

He's clearly the best horse, but do you want to take 6-5 or lower on Afleet Alex on Saturday in the 137th Belmont Stakes? Even for a horse that may have cheated serious injury or worse at the top of the stretch in the Preakness, there are no guarantees at 1-1/2 miles. Like Smarty Jones and Funny Cide, Alex ran career-best pace and final-figure tops in the Preakness, and look what happened to them in the Belmont.

So you're not crazy about Giacomo, either, figuring that a grinder with no early zip will be up against it in a race where tactical speed is a big edge. Well, where do you land?

I ended up on Reverberate, and without great confidence. He has early speed and an excellent distance pedigree (by Thunder Gulch, a Belmont winner, out of a mare by Proud Truth, a Breeders' Cup Classic winner). He should be on or near the pace, which doesn't figure to be fast, and maybe he can move forward off his solid second in a very quick Peter Pan. Yeah, maybe. (You can read my take on all 11 Belmont runners in the site's Triple Crown coverage section.)

I wish I had a dollar for every time I decided to bet against a heavy favorite that didn't win but ended up on the wrong horse. I'm fully prepared for that to happen even if Afleet Alex throws in a bad one.

I've even considered a hideous and shocking possibility -- not betting the Belmont -- but I got the shivers just thinking about that. I'll bet maybe $10 to win and $5 to place on Reverberate and key him in exactas with Afleet Alex and Giacomo, and that will be it.

1. Reverberate. 2. Afleet Alex. 3. Giacomo.

As for the rest of the card, it's very tricky, with six consecutive stakes in a Pick 6 capped by the Test of the Champion. The Belmont undercard, as always, is filled with deep, very competitive fields, and I'm not planning to go crazy. I might not even play any multiple-race wagers, because I prefer my aggravation to come one race at a time.

Here are a few thoughts on the Belmont's other stakes:

6th race, Grade II True North Handicap (6 furlongs)
Mass Media is 4-for-5 at the distance, has the best class lines and strong numbers. He should get a nice tracking trip behind a lively pace.

1. Mass Media. 2. Willy O' The Valley. Smokume.

7th race, Grade II Just A Game Breeders' Cup Handicap (mile, turf)
The brilliant but temperamental Intercontinental tries to repeat her winning pattern from last year, when she took the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland before winning the Just A Game. She's 5-for-5 at a mile and a mile and a sixteenth in the United States, but if rain softens the course and/or she reverts to rank behavior early, she could be vulnerable. I just don't know who can beat her. Riskaverse and Wonder Again are classy veterans, but they're coming off long layoffs and do their best running at 1 1/8 miles and beyond.

1. Intercontinental. 2. Mambo Slew. 3. Sand Springs.

8th race, Grade II Riva Ridge (7 furlongs)
Lost in The Fog, an undefeated super freak of a sprinter, tries for his seventh win, and he might have to work a lot harder for it than he's used to doing. There's a buzz about Egg Head, a recent acquisition by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who actually has some faster final figs than Lost in The Fog. Going Wild, a pace casualty in the Derby and Preakness, also shows up, so they'll be motoring early. The wise guys may go for Egg Head, and if I can get Lost in The Fog at 7-5 or 8-5, I'll be betting him. Otherwise, I'll pass.

1. Lost in The Fog. 2. Proud Accolade. 3. Survivalist.

9th race, Grade II Brooklyn Handicap (1 1/8 miles)
Funny Cide was short of condition and hated the slop in the Pimlico Special the day before the Preakness. He went very quickly early and should be suitably tightened for a big effort on the track where two years ago his Triple Crown bid went down. His old rival Evening Attire returns from a six-month break and could provide Funny Cide with his toughest competition. Evening Attire runs well fresh, loves 9 furlongs and is training strongly.

1. Funny Cide. 2. Evening Attire. 3. Limehouse.

10th race, Grade I Manhattan Handicap (1? miles, turf)
Artie Schiller disappointed at 3-5 in the 1 1/8-mile Dixie Handicap at Pimlico on Preakness day, losing a stretch-long duel by a nose after Edgar Prado rode him too confidently. He had other excuses, too: taking two bad steps in the stretch on a rain-softened course he probably didn't like. He's tried 1? miles, the Manhattan distance, only once, though losing to superstar Kitten's Joy by 2? lengths last summer is nothing to be ashamed of. So either Artie bounces back and wins with ease, as he did in his 2005 debut at Keeneland, or he has trouble with the extra furlong.

I'll try to beat him with Meteor Storm, who won the Manhattan last year and is 2-for-2 at the distance. If Artie Schiller isn't in top form, I think this Wally Dollase shipper has the best chance of capitalizing, and he'll be 5-1 or 6-1.

1. Meteor Storm. 2. Artie Schiller. 3. Good Reward.