History making performance. Defining moment. Greatness personified in the Thoroughbred.
The racing world waits for today’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I) to find out if any or all of the above are true about Big Brown, who goes postward as the overwhelming favorite in the race that can make him racing’s elusive 12th Triple Crown winner.
The race lost much of its luster Saturday morning when Casino Drive, who could have made history for his dam had he won, becoming her third consecutive Belmont winner, was scratched after suffering a minor hoof injury the previous day.
All eyes will be on Big Brown, the son of Boundary owned by IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa Jr and trained by Rick Dutrow. The colt is undefeated, appears to tower over his opponents, and could bring some publicity to a sport that sorely needs good news.
Big Brown does have his detractors, however, because his trainer has numerous past infractions and drug problems and has been boastful about his horse, and IEAH head Michael Iavarone has had several legal issues over the years.
There also is the question of the quality of opponents Big Brown has beaten, though racetrackers know a horse only need defeat those who race against him.
That aside, he is obviously a talented colt who doesn’t beat his competition, rather he destroys them. Under Kent Desormeaux he won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) by 4 ¾ lengths and two weeks later cruised home by 5 ¼ lengths in the Preakness (gr. I).
On the morning of the Preakness, speculation ended as to where Big Brown would eventually stand at stud when it was announced Three Chimneys Farm had signed a deal to stand him at its Kentucky farm. Speculation put the deal at around $50 million. Should he complete the Triple Crown, he would certainly be a more prized stallion commanding a higher stud fee.
Should Big Brown win, his connections will immediately be asked if he will stay in training. They have repeatedly said they intend to target the Travers Stakes (gr. I) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), which would endear them to fans dismayed by the early retirement of many of racing’s stars. A showdown in the Classic with reigning Horse of the Year Curlin would be the most anticipated race in years.
Big Brown will have to run under hot and sticky conditions, the temperature expected to hit 95 in the first heat wave of the season. That would be 20 degrees warmer than Friday at Belmont Park, a delightful day with a slight breeze that saw many fans wearing windbreakers in the grandstand seats.
With Casino Drive, who was the 7-2 second choice, out of the race, Big Brown’s morning line of 2-5 could drop even lower by race time, set for about 6:30 p.m. (ET). No other horse on the morning line was less than 10-1, with Denis of Cork the third choice in the morning line at 12-1.
Big Brown has recent history working against him as he tries to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed beat Alydar in all three races in 1978. Six times since 1997 a horse has come to Belmont after winning the Derby and Preakness only to lose the bid for immortality.
In 1997, Silver Charm was $1.05-1 when beaten by Touch Gold ($2.65); in 1998 Real Quiet was $.80 when he lost to Victory Gallop ($4.50); in 1999 Charismatic was $1.60 when Lemon Drop Kid ($29.75) pulled the upset; in 2002 War Emblem was $1.25 when Sarava ($70.25) stunned the field; in 2003 Funny Cide was $1.00 when Empire Maker ($2.00) won; and in 2004 Smarty Jones was a prohibitive $0.35 when he lost to Birdstone ($36.00).
There has been much publicity about Big Brown and his attempt to break the 30-year drought. But there were no predictions about attendance after the weather forecast came out predicting very hot and humid conditions. The record is the 120,139 that saw Smarty Jones lose his bid.
Shortly after 6:30, the world will know if we have a new Triple Crown winner or another longshot winner and another year to wait.