Big Brown made his return to turf a successful one Sept. 13 in the $500,000 Monmouth Stakes, sprinting to a commanding early lead under Kent Desormeaux and then gamely holding off Proudinsky for the length of the stretch to win by a neck.
Facing older horses for the first time, there was no doubt about the strategy for Big Brown. After breaking well from post 4, the dual classic winner went straight to front with Get Serious pressing the pace under Pablo Fragoso. Those two were six lengths ahead of the rest of the field after a quarter-mile in :23.46.
Big Brown led comfortably through the backstretch, but the field drew closer after six furlongs in 1:11.21. He still held a length advantage at the top of the lane, but Proudinsky, who had saved ground early and moved into contention around the turn, came up to challenge in upper stretch under Ramon Dominguez. Those two dueled for most of the final furlong, but Proudinsky could never get by the winner, who was sent off at odds of 3-5.
The final time for 1 1/8 miles on a turf labeled ‘good’ was 1:47.41.
“Except for his last race, the Haskell, I’ve never asked him to break," Desormeaux said. "Today when the gates opened I chirped at him and he responded. It made a huge difference going into that first turn when (Get Serious) left his side. When that happened he focused and calmed down.
“I think he showed you what kind of heart he’s got. When (Proudinsky) did get to his neck I knew I had him. My horse just resurged and kept digging all the way to the wire.
“This is by far the best crowd. I’ve never ridden a horse that has been cheered for as much as the way they do here for this horse.”
Big Brown has now won seven of eight lifetime starts, with his lone defeat coming in the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). The son of Boundary was making his first start on turf since breaking his maiden at Saratoga by more than 11 lengths Sept. 3, 2007. It was that eye-catching victory that prompted IEAH Stables’ Mike Iavarone to buy him privately.
Bred in Kentucky by Monticule and out of the Nureyev mare Mien, Big Brown has now earned $3,614,500. His next, and perhaps final start, will be in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) Oct. 25 at Santa Anita. That race will be contested over the new Pro-Ride surface.
“The way he dug down this afternoon showed his true heart and his true courage," said Iavarone. "There is nothing he can do that will surprise me anymore. I got a little worried after the quick early fractions, especially with that horse rating in right behind him. In the lane, I just watched the way Kent was riding and once I saw he was still riding with confidence, I was able to relax."
Gary Tanaka’s Proudinsky entered the newly-created Monmouth Stakes with a 4-3-1 record from 12 starts, all of the turf. The German-bred 5-year-old son of Silvano won the Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) earlier this season, but had finished off the board in his last two outings.
"We got a good trip and I thought I was going to get to him in the lane, but once he felt me to his side, he just dug in," said Dominguez, who rode for trainer Bobby Frankel. "He kicked right back in and dug in all the way to the finish. We got up to his head and he just fought right back.”
Shakis, who made a mild bid from the outside in mid-stretch, finished third, a half-length behind Proudinsky. Silver Tree, winner of the Oceanport Stakes (gr. IIIT) last month at Monmouth, was also in contention in the final furlong but flattened out along the hedge and finished fourth.
The winner paid $3.20, $2.60 and $2.20. The exacta (4-6) returned $11.40, while the trifecta (4-6-3) was worth $30.20.
Fagedaboudit Sal finished fifth, followed by Hotstufanthensome, Get Serious, Nightscape and Kiss the Kid.
After the race, trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. was very excited about about Big Brown's chances at the Breeders' Cup.
"This race was not the end of the world for us, but we needed it for timing for the next race. To win it was great. Now we can go to the next race full of confidence. All he needs to do is like that track.”