Can he be beaten? Will he win by the length of the stretch? We’ve been down this road too many times to state that a horse is invincible going a mile and a half. The Belmont Stakes can either hinder or improve a horse’s chances. It can prove too demanding for horses who have been unbeatable at shorter distances or it can separate the exceptional horses from their competitors much more than the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. All you have to do is look at Secretariat, Risen Star, Easy Goer, Point Given , Bet Twice, and Go and Go, all of whom won the Belmont by eight lengths or more. In short, the Belmont is designed to either showcase greatness or expose a horse’s weakness.
So, which one will apply to Big Brown? Some feel it will be the latter, but most believe it will be a stroll in the park. If Casino Drive does wind up scratching due to a stone bruise suffered yesterday, there will be those who feel that Big Brown once again defeated inferior competition and still has not solidified his greatness.
If Big Brown runs off and hides from his opponents, few people will be surprised. Unlike Smarty Jones , Funny Cide, and War Emblem, Big Brown has no flaws when it comes to running style and the ability to adapt to any pace scenario. He also is push-button, which separates him from the aforementioned three horses.
So, with that said, there is no way we’re going pick against Big Brown. But the purpose of this column is to prepare for the unthinkable. Big favorites do get beat, especially those running in their third competitive stakes in five weeks at an odd distance that is going to test their stamina.
Coming up with a horse who can upset Big Brown is not an easy task, because there is very little separating four or five of them.
Having been a Denis of Cork booster since he broke his maiden last November, he has to be given the main chance of upsetting Big Brown based on his training, appearance, and pedigree. He sitting on a big effort, judging from his recent works and last two gallops at Belmont and the way he was bouncing off the track Friday morning in a virtual jog. He’s feeling good and there is no reason to think he won’t turn in a big effort, especially considering his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum Brands (gr. I) came off only one dull effort in an 11-week period. He is back on track after an ill-advised alteration in his schedule, and we should finally get to see the real Denis of Cork.
When it comes to toughness, Icabad Crane tops them all. This tenacious terrier loves to mix it up, and although he’s far from being a big, muscular horse, he’ll shove anybody out his way if he has to and he’ll go through any hole. He did it in the Federico Tesio and he did it in the Preakness, a race in which he could have easily finished second had he not had to steady behind a wall of horses while making a big run from the back of the pack. He actually is a perfect fit for his daredevil pilot Jeremy Rose, who will go through the smallest opening if he has to. Icabad Crane had a strong, smooth gallop on Thursday and he is the sleeper in this field.
Under the radar is Tale of Ekati, who turned in the most impressive performance by a 2-year-old in a stakes last year in our opinion. He’s on his home track, just like Birdstone was in 2004, and he has proven he has the class.
If you’re looking for an angle on a big longshot, Ready’s Echo displaced his palate in his last start, the Peter Pan (gr. II), and has since had a myectomy to correct the problem. He’s a strong closer with a ton of stamina in his female family, and while he still hasn’t been tested for class, he could be an interesting horse to include in the exotics.
Anak Nakal is another who could hit the board at a huge price based on his steady return to form. He still hasn’t returned to the form of his Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) victory last fall, but that class is there just waiting to come out under the right circumstances, and he has been working bullets. The last time jockey Kent Desormaux was trying a for a Triple Crown sweep, aboard Real Quiet, he was beaten on the wire by Anak Nakal’s sire Victory Gallop.
So, good luck picking among all these horses for either an upset victory or a shot at hitting an exotic. You can make a case for any of them. Denis of Cork seems the most likely, with Macho Again and Icabad Crane right there as well.