Genuine Risk's victory in the Kentucky Derby and her controversial loss in the Preakness have created many new fans for horse racing. With the Belmont Stakes imminent, these novices should understand the most important ingredient of the game.

In other areas of human actiivity, peopl ecommonly express opinions that float into the air and dissolve harmlessly. We can all pontificate about the correct American strategy in Iran or the meaning of the ghost in Hamlet without worrying about being proved wrong, and without dealing with the consequences of our opinions.

But the very essence of horse racing is that we bet on our opinions. And so, for the multitude of ignormuses who maintain that Genuine Risk could have won the Preakness if Codex had not fouled her, the time has come to put their money where their mouths are.

This point of view surfaced many times in the Maryland Racing Commissions's hearing on Genuine Risk's disallowed foul claim against Codex.

"We think she would have won the Preakness," said Henry Lord, attorney for the filly's owner, Bert Firestone, "but we'll never know. We think she could have gone down to the wire with Codex, but we'll never know. We think both horses might have broken the track record, but we'll never know."

Firestone said, "If he could have beaten our filly, he would have gone ahead an beaten her fair and square. The way she was running, it looked like she was going to fly by him."

To an utter neophyte, the Preakness probably did look this way. Genuine Risk was moving powerfully, just as she had done in the Derby, when Codex carried her wide on the turn and possibly brushed with her. But after the incident, the filly seemed to lose momentum, and Codex ran away from her by 4 3/4 lengths.

In fact, this happened because Codex ran so much faster than any of Genuine Risk's foes did in the Derby. From the standpoint of time, the filly's performance in the Preakness was virtually equal to her performance in the Derby. And the impression that she decelerated in the stretch was somewhat illusory. She ran the last three-sixteenths of a mile in a quick 19 seconds, but Codex was running extremely well at the same time.

Handicappers who watch races regularly try not only to spot incidents that compromise a horse's chances to win, but also to assess the effect of those incidents in quantative terms. Genuine Risk's rally was impaired a bit at Pimlico, but the effects of the interference were hardly cataclysmic. She never broke stride. Based on the Preakness, it is hard to make a rational case that she can come within three or four lengths of Codex Saturday.

Of course, there are many new factors that could affect the outcome of the Belmont. Handicapping involves a lot more than looking at one past race. The capability of the horses to handle the uniquely demanding 1 1/2-mile distance is obviously crucial. So may be the fact that Codex will be running without the benefit of the drug Butazolidin for the first time in his career.

And there are horses in the field of 10 who could upset the two principals.Rumbo has finished a strong second behind both Genuine Risk and Codex on different occasions. Pikotazo has won all nine of his races in Mexico, and could be the second coming of Canonero II.

But most likely the Belmont will be decided by the realtive merits of Codex and Genuine Risk. If it is, Codex an excellent bet at the morning-line price of 2 to 1. Genuine Risk's partisans would be utterly hypocritical if they didn't leap at the chance to bet her 4 to1. I hope their numbers are legion.