Specialist `Casino' looms in New York

Belmont Stakes

May 18, 2008|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun Reporter

Big Brown's principal challenge at the Belmont Stakes is expected to come from Casino Drive, a horse sent to the United States from Japan to run in the Belmont.

Big Brown jockey Kent Desormeaux has done more than scout Casino Drive - he has ridden him.

Desormeaux was aboard Casino Drive when the horse recently won the Peter Pan Stakes.

"He's the only one I think that could even entertain Big Brown's stride," the jockey said after Big Brown's runaway victory in the Preakness, leaving the horse one victory shy of the Triple Crown. "He can run. He's a nice horse."

The Belmont, on June 7, is five-sixteenths of a mile longer than the Preakness.

"You know, there's so many hurdles," Desormeaux said. "Can't wait to find out what happens, but that's a cold exacta."

Rick Dutrow, Big Brown's trainer, was doing the racing equivalent of trash talking after the race.

"I would like to have him, for one," Dutrow said of Casino Drive. "He looks like a nice horse. No. 2, I believe he can't beat our horse."

Dutrow then joked that the Japanese people might have "thought Godzilla was dead. They're going to find out he's not dead, he's here."

In seven of the past 12 years, a horse has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, then was denied at the Belmont. The last to do so was Smarty Jones in 2004.

Raised in Japan, Casino Drive has the same dam - Better Than Honour - as Rags to Riches and Jazil, the past two Belmont winners. Experts said that could bode well at the Belmont's longer distance. At 1 1/2 miles, the Belmont is the longest of the Triple Crown races.

Others expected to run in the Belmont are Anak Nakal, who finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby; Denis of Cork, third in the Derby; Tale of Ekati, fourth in the Derby; and Tomcito, who ran last year in Peru.

"It looks like Big Brown might win the Belmont farther than Secretariat," said Patrick Gallagher, the trainer for Yankee Bravo, who finished 10th in the Preakness.

In 1973, Secretariat won the Belmont by 31 lengths.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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