Run at history

Dutrow certain of Triple Crown, but competitors not conceding

Belmont Stakes

June 07, 2008|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Temperature above 90 degrees today? No problem, babe. The 1 1/2 -mile Belmont course? Big Brown's cool. And a third race in five weeks? Just forget about it.

That's the opinion of Big Brown's trainer, Maryland native Rick Dutrow.

But will all those things combined with the competitive presence of nine challengers be too much for the favorite as he goes for history and the first Triple Crown in 30 years?

"I don't see it. I don't see it," Dutrow said. "I don't see that this horse has been dragged through the mud and made to run in every dance. We have not asked him to run when it was not necessary. It looks like he has plenty left.

"So, I mean, it's like this horse is blessed. It's like something or someone is looking out for him. Yeah, he's had [hoof] wall separations [which caused changes to his racing schedule] and a quarter crack, but look where we are right now. Something is going on out of my control."

Big Brown's good fortune seemed to continue yesterday when Casino Drive, a horse viewed as possibly the only one who can match Big Brown's stride, suffered what is believed to be a stone bruise during his early-morning power walk.

At Casino Drive's barn, Nobutaka Tada looked up to see a mass of media heading his way. "I thought you all were confused and thought I was Mr. Dutrow," the racing manager for Casino Drive's owner joked.

Tada said Casino Drive has what his vet believes is a stone bruise under his left hind foot. Tada and his staff noticed the horse was not walking "as he usually does" during his walk. They canceled his morning gallop on the racetrack, but Tada said he expects the horse to race.

"The Belmont Stakes is tomorrow," he said yesterday. "Of course we are concerned. But we can race him at the moment and if he stays like this, there is no reason to withdraw him."

Yesterday evening, Tada said Casino Drive was standing comfortably in his stall and added he was better than he had been in the morning. When Tada was asked whether the horse would run today, he was just a little elusive.

"We have not scratched him," he said.

Edgar Prado, who is to ride Casino Drive, joked, "Now Casino Drive and Big Brown are on equal footing, a bruise and a quarter crack."

Big Brown's quarter crack is a nonissue, said foot specialist Ian McKinlay, who put a patch on the horse's left front hoof yesterday afternoon.

"The foot is cold and dry," he said. "It couldn't be better. I'll guarantee he will not have any trouble with this foot in the race."

McKinlay said he will not be here to see Big Brown run but will watch from home with family and friends.

"Big Brown looks fabulous," McKinlay said. "If this horse gets beat, it is going to be some race. He's not just going to fold up."

Big Brown's competitors seem to agree the race is his to lose. But each is plotting a way to beat him to the winner's circle "any way we can" and make him the seventh disappointed Triple Crown contender in the past 12 years.

"Anak Nakal looks just like Birdstone," Nick Zito said, referring to his 2004 trainee who stopped until-then-undefeated Smarty Jones. "I don't know if Anak Nakal is as good as he is, but maybe this is the race he is. ... The interesting thing about the Belmont is it's not 1 1/4 miles, it's 1 1/2 . You've got to go that 1 1/2 ."

And the best thing about the Belmont, said Terry Finley, the managing partner of West Point Thoroughbreds, which owns Macho Again, is that the trophy isn't given away before the race.

"I think we have a shot," he said. "You look at the horses who have come in here and looked unbeatable, and they got beat."

Anak Nakal and Macho Again might or might not be the horses to beat Big Brown, who is 5-0. But there are at least two other horses who have built a following.

Casino Drive was viewed as the main foe until Dutrow broke the news to the media that Casino Drive is not 100 percent.

"I don't think Casino Drive has any chance at all," Dutrow said yesterday morning. "I don't know what kind of schedule he's on, not breezing or galloping. I think that horse has issues. I keep hearing he's going to be scratched."

Casino Drive, though inexperienced, is from the same dam, Better Than Honour, as the past two Belmont winners, Jazil in 2006 and the filly Rags to Riches last year.

And until yesterday, Tada said, Casino Drive had been "much more happy" every day training up to the Belmont.

Denis of Cork is the other horse who is getting a look and might have some Irish luck. He charged from 20th to third in the Derby and then took the past five weeks off to be fresh for the Belmont.

"He has a mile and a quarter under his belt," said trainer David Carroll, a native of Ireland. "He is fitter and more mature and hopefully [today] we'll be in the winner's circle."

Dutrow said again yesterday that he expects his horse to win easily.

"He's not running against a really good crowd and he is a really good horse," he said. "I expect him to win by daylight, babe. I just don't see no dogfight in this race."

Asked his impressions of last-minute entry Guadalcanal, who has lots of go-long genes in his breeding chart but no victories among his past performances, Dutrow looked perplexed.

"I've never heard of Guadalcanal," he said of the horse who will break next to Big Brown from Gate 2. "I hope he doesn't break his maiden [today]."

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