NEW YORK is a short on true sporting superstars right at the moment. Take a trip to Belmont Park this Saturday and you might just see one.
His name is Big Brown and he’s on the verge of making horse racing history.
The three-year-old colt has already cruised to victory in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Now he is a mile and a half away from becoming the first winner of the American Triple Crown for 30 years.
The stats are against him. Since Steve Cauthen and Affirmed outdueled Alydar in a head-to-head battle down the stretch in 1978, 10 horses have tried – and failed – to complete the third leg of the Triple Crown.
It takes an extraordinary thoroughbred to win three classic races, staged on different tracks and at different distances, in the space of just five weeks.
But on the evidence of his five races so far, unbeaten Big Brown is exactly that – an extraordinary animal with exceptional talent.
He has the cruising speed of a Rolls Royce, the acceleration of a Ferrari and, up to now, the durability of a Jeep.
Colt overcomes a crack in his hoof
Not even a crack in his left front hoof has kept him off the racecourse and, according to work watchers, he looked as good as ever when breezing five furlongs on Long Island today (Tuesday).
A 1-5 favorite for the Preakness, he’s expected to go off at a price of around 1-3 in the Belmont at 6.25pm on Saturday (live coverage on ABC).
If he wins, as expected, it’s more than likely he will be retired on the spot. Sadly for the sport, connections have already announced he won’t continue running as a four-year-old. Already worth a fortune at stud, he'll be worth even more as only the 12th winner of the Triple Crown.
So if history can’t beat Big Brown then who can? He’s likely to face a maximum of eight opponents, many of whom he’s already beaten.
I find it impossible to imagine either Denis of Cork (15-2) or Tale of Ekati (10-1) – third and fourth in the Derby – overturning the form. Sadly, the filly Eight Belles is no longer with us, having collapsed after passing the post in second place.
Macho Again (20-1) was runner-up in the Preakness, albeit five and a quarter lengths back, while Behindatthebar (20-1) was a late scratch at Pimlico due to a bruised left front foot.
Truth is that in both races, jockey Kent Desormeaux spent most of his time looking in the rearview mirror. He would have won at any distance and could have won by twice, maybe three times the margin.
Second favorite Casino Drive looks only danger
That leaves Casino Drive as the only conceivable danger. The Japanese horse has several key factors in his favor. He’s already won over the track, taking the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes. As a half brother to the last two winners of the Belmont, Jazil (2006) and the filly Rags to Riches (2007), he’s certainly bred for the race.
Perhaps even more importantly, he arrives in New York a fresh horse, having skipped both the Derby and Preakness.
Whether he’s in the same class as Big Brown is extremely unlikely. But, as any punter will tell you, the best horse doesn’t always win on the day.
Big Brown’s trainer, Rick Dutrow Jr., is refusing to contemplate defeat. Despite a less than ideal preparation, he dismisses the challenge of Casino Drive.
“He’s got no chance of beating our horse,” he says. “I’ll be in the winner’s circle when they get to the quarter pole. That’s how I feel. I don’t see that this horse can beat him.”
For the sake of horse racing in the United States, for the sake of Eight Belles, and for the sake of the New York public craving to crown an equine hero, I hope he’s right.