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Big Brown faces a new hurdle

Casino Drive adds a challenge to the Belmont Stakes field that already has the attention of jockey Desormeaux.

May 19, 2008|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

BALTIMORE -- Jockey Julien Leparoux, who rode 39-1 shot Macho Again to a second-place finish Saturday in the Preakness Stakes, said, "We just got beat by a monster."

That monster is Big Brown, who this morning will be shipped to Belmont Park, the Long Island racetrack where on June 7 he can make history by winning the Belmont Stakes.

That would make Big Brown thoroughbred racing's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

But the Belmont doesn't figure to be as easy for Big Brown as his 5 1/4 -length victory over Macho Again and 10 other horses in the Preakness.

That's because he will be facing Casino Drive. That horse was shipped from Japan to run in the Grade II $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 10, and won by 5 3/4 lengths.

Casino Drive that day was ridden by Big Brown's jockey, Kent Desormeaux. Immediately after the Preakness, Desormeaux was touting Casino Drive and looking ahead to a showdown in the Belmont.

"It's going to be fun," he said. "He's a phenomenal talent, and we've got our hands full with this one. It's going to be ultimately exciting for all the fans."

Desormeaux said Casino Drive is the only horse who could entertain keeping up with Big Brown's strides.

"It's another quarter of a mile," Desormeaux said of the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont. "You know, there's so many hurdles. Can't wait to find out what happens, but that's a cold exacta."

Rick Dutrow Jr., Big Brown's confident and outspoken trainer, was asked, "Cold or box exacta?" That means, do you bet Big Brown and Casino Drive to finish one-two, or do you bet them to finish in either order?

"It's cold, baby," Dutrow said.

He also said, referring to Casino Drive's Japanese ownership and Japanese trainer: "All the Japanese people are going to come here thinking Godzilla is dead. They're going to find out he's not dead."

Dutrow said Big Brown will go straight from his stable at Pimlico to trainer Bobby Frankel's barn at Belmont and Empire Maker's stall rather than Dutrow's barn at Aqueduct.

"I'd rather train him at Belmont for the big race," he said Saturday. "I want to take advantage for the big race, cross every 't,' dot every 'i' that we possibly can."

Meeting with reporters Sunday, Dutrow said, "It looks like he's ready."

An omen might be that it rained in Baltimore on Friday and Sunday, but the sun was shining brightly for Big Brown on Saturday.

A crowd of 112,222 attended the Preakness and bet $73,457,510. Both numbers rank fifth on the Preakness' all-time list.

The crowd bet so heavily on Big Brown to win, and so lightly on Macho Again to place, that it resulted in an odd payoff on Big Brown -- $2.40, $2.60 and $2.40.

After the Belmont, Big Brown figures to race only twice more before being retired to stud. Dutrow wants to run him in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in upstate New York in August and in the Breeders' Cup Classic during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita in October.

A stud deal that fell through earlier in the week was completed Saturday. Three Chimneys, a Kentucky Farm owned by Robert Clay, purchased the breeding rights to Big Brown for a figure reportedly around $50 million.

Mike Iavarone and Richard Schiavo are co-presidents of International Equine Acquisitions Holdings, the majority owners of Big Brown. Both are New Yorkers and anticipate a big turnout of friends at the Belmont.

"I think the stud deal we made might be able to pay for the tickets in the grandstand," Iavarone said. "I think we're going to be 1,000 deep."

Three Chimneys, coincidently, is home to Smarty Jones, who in 2004 was the last Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner to try but fail to win the Triple Crown at the Belmont.

Funny Cide, War Emblem, Charismatic, Real Quiet and Silver Charm are the others who have experienced that same fate since 1978.

But Big Brown appears to have a great chance to end that trend June 7.

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larry.stewart@latimes.com

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