ELMONT, N.Y. -- Throw Big Brown a curveball and he tends to hit it out of the park. He won the Kentucky Derby from the No. 20 post, a feat accomplished by just one other. When he drew a middle post for the Preakness, the question was: How will he respond to getting dirt in his face? His answer was to win going away.
Now, in the Belmont Stakes comes another test. Can Big Brown win the Triple Crown while starting on the rail?
Yesterday, Big Brown drew the No. 1 post for Saturday's Belmont and was installed as the 2-5 favorite.
Though Big Brown's trainer, Rick Dutrow, a Maryland native, said before the draw he would like an outside post, he shrugged off the inside position as his horse would a fly.
"I can't see a post position beating him," Dutrow said. "He has handled everything thrown at him, and in this race, there is plenty of time to get out of any trouble. I couldn't be happier. Big Brown, I've never seen him like this before. This morning, he was looking for action, looking for trouble. He knows something is going to happen. ... I know our horse is going to be great."
Starting from the No. 1 hole, Big Brown will have the advantage of history on his side this time. Since 1900, more horses have won the Belmont from that post than from any other - including Secretariat and four other Triple Crown winners. But Big Brown's jockey, Kent Desormeaux, said he will have less control of the race.
"When you're on the inside, you have to respond more to what's going on outside of you," Desormeaux said. "Late in the day, like the Belmont is, coming after a day of racing, the rail can be dead. But because of the extended distance of this race, no one is going to be running off to create a position. We're all going to try to slide away from the gate."
Casino Drive, the American-bred son of Mineshaft who is owned and trained in Japan, is the second choice at 7-2 and will come out of post No. 5. The draw seemed to please Nabutaka Tada, the racing manager for owner Hidetoshi Yamamoto.
"I like the post, and it doesn't matter to the horse," Tada said.
Casino Drive is out of the mare Better than Honor, who produced the past two winners of the Belmont, Jazil and Rags to Riches. Tada said even though Casino Drive has just two races to his credit, he was pointed to the Belmont Stakes from the moment Rags to Riches made history last year by becoming the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont.
"Why not?" Tada said. "He was bred for the Belmont Stakes."
Denis of Cork, third choice at 12-1, will start in the No. 4 post.
Fair Hill-based Icabad Crane, who won the Tesio Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in April and hasn't stopped maturing since, drew post No. 10 and was listed at 20-1, the same odds as Preakness runner-up Macho Again and Tale of Ekati.
"Since his last couple races, he's matured and filled out," Adrian Rolls, assistant trainer for Graham Motion, said of Icabad Crane. "When you see him every day, it's usually hard to notice changes like that, but we've noticed him."
His handlers used to call Icabad a "small horse," but when they took him out of his stall and measured him last week, he wasn't small any more, measuring 16 hands, 3 inches.
"This horse was very immature for quite a long time," said Aaron Cohen, racing manager for owner Earle Mack. "But he's a 3-year-old maturing at the right time."
There was one surprise yesterday when Guadalcanal, sired by Graeme Hall, was entered. He will start in the No. 2 post and will be the longest shot in the field at 50-1. Guadacanal, owned and trained by Fred Seitz, is 0-for-5 in his career, but has shown improvement by finishing third and second, respectively, at Keeneland and Churchill Downs over the past two months.