Monday, May 19, 2008


NEW YORK’S Belmont Park will be the focus of attention in three weeks’ time when many believe Big Brown will become the first Triple Crown winner for 30 years.

It was back in 1978 that Affirmed completed the sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes to become the 11th Triple Crown champion.

Since then, 10 horses have arrived on Long Island with the first two legs in the bag…and 10 have failed. So what makes Big Brown different?

Class. That’s the simple answer. Big Brown didn’t just win the Derby and Preakness, he won them on the bridle.

Had the three-year-old bay colt been asked a serious question by jockey Kent Desormeaux, his winning margin could have doubled, even tripled.

Whether he beat much remains to be seen. But to win the Derby from post 20 was no small achievement and, once again, it was his manner of victory that impressed most observers at Pimlico on Saturday.

Sent off the red-hot 1-5 favorite, Big Brown traveled with such ease that Desormeaux was able to peak between his legs to see where his opponents were. He needn’t have bothered. It was a case of Big Brown first, the rest nowhere, as he strolled home more than five lengths clear.

With most horses, you’re lucky if you can get them to change gear once in a race. Big Brown has gears ranging from first to cruise control.

Unbeaten in five races, we don’t how he will respond in a driving finish as he’s yet to be tested. So will that happen at Belmont Park?

Three factors Big Brown must overcome

If you discount the horses he has already beaten, and none of them seem to have any excuses, there are three things Big Brown has to overcome.

1. Casino Drive. The Japanese challenger has already won on the track, taking the Peter Pan. A half brother to 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil and a three-quarters brother to Rags to Riches, the filly who won the race last year, he’s certainly bred for the race.

2. The distance. Run over one and a half miles, the Belmont is easily the longest leg of the Triple Crown.

3. Three races in five weeks. Racehorses are not machines. Trainer Ricky Dutrow Jr. now has the task of bringing Big Brown to the boil for a third time in a short space of time.

Casino Drive may be a worthy challenger, but he’ll need to be a world-beater to get past an on-song Big Brown.

Personally, I don’t think the extra distance is a factor. Big Brown would have won the Derby and the Preakness at any distance.

For me, the biggest worry is the proximity of the races. Will there be any gas left in the tank? Dutrow is unconcerned. “I know we have horse left. I just can’t imagine him not showing up for the Belmont.”

Neither can I. It’s not as though the horse had a hard race in either Kentucky or Baltimore.

Desormeaux oozes confidence – both on and off the track. “Casino Drive is the only one that can even entertain Big Brown’s stride. It’s going to be exciting. He can run; he’s a nice horse. It’s an extra quarter of a mile. You know there are so many hurdles. Can’t wait to find out.”

Many a Triple Crown bubble has burst at Belmont Park

Smarty Jones (2004), Funny Cide (2003), War Emblem (2002), Charismatic (1999), Real Quiet (1998), Silver Charm (1997), Sunday Silence (1989), Alysheba (1987), Pleasant Colony (1981) and Spectacular Bid (1979). All had their hopes of the Triple Crown dashed at Belmont.

But I for one won’t be betting against Big Brown come Saturday, June 7. I believe he will join the great Seattle Slew (1977) as the only undefeated Triple Crown winner.

Regardless of what happens in the Belmont, the sad part is that we’ll never know just how good Big Brown really is.

The acid test of a colt’s ability is how he fares against the older horses as a four year old. Big Brown will be off to stud long before then.

A Triple Crown winner will provide American horse racing with a much-needed boost. But if Big Brown succeeds, it will be a bittersweet victory.

No sooner has the horse earned a place in our hearts than he’s whisked away for a purely physical relationship. Some guys have all the luck!

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