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Rick Samuels

Belmont Doings: The Big Brown

Rick Dutrow wanted the outside post in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I). He didn’t get it. Instead, he got the inside post for Big Brown, which does come with a certain risk of getting trapped, but the rail is far better than the 10, where the risks can be greater.

The chances of Big Brown getting trapped for such a prolonged period of time that it would prove costly are negligible compared to the chances of him getting caught wide on the first turn, which could indeed prove costly.

Forget what they say about Pimlico’s turns. When you get caught wide on Belmont’s long, sweeping turns you’re stuck out there for such a long period of time it is very likely it will eventually take its toll. And going wide into the far turn is just as bad. Many a time a horse will make a big wide move around the far turn only to fall apart once he straightens into the stretch. The key is to save ground and then swing wide at around the five-sixteenths pole.

When Dutrow says “post position will not get his horse beat,” he most likely is correct, especially drawing the rail. The only way the rail could hurt him is if the inside is very deep and he is unable to get to the outside. You can be sure track superintendent John Passero will have the rail in good shape. The other way is if the opposing jockeys gang up on Desormeaux and intentionally keep him trapped at the risk of jeopardizing their own chances, which also is highly unlikely. Big Brown simply is too push-button and responds so well to whatever the rider wants him to do. At some point Big Brown will get off the rail. It could come early, just as it did when Jerry Bailey steered Empire Maker  off the inside going into the first turn and put him in a perfect position outside Funny Cide in the 2003 Belmont Stakes.

If there is a concern it is having a maiden right outside him. As soon as it was announced that a maiden was entered in the Belmont, almost everyone knew he would draw next to Big Brown. And when that maiden, Guadalcanal, drew post 2, there was little doubt Big Brown was destined to wind up on the rail. It just seems to work that way. If Guadalcanal should throw a fit in the gate while Big Brown is in there or slam into the favorite coming out of the gate, possibly costing him the race, let’s just say in as mild a way as possible that his owner-trainer Fred Seitz will not be the most popular person in racing, especially with the New York crowd.

Does Seitz have a right to run his horse? The rules say he does. The horse was beaten a nose going 1 1/2 miles on the turf in his last start and he has a ton of stamina in his female family. And a maiden did finish third in the 2005 Belmont Stakes. So, he can make a case for it. But the horse has been mediocre on dirt and at shorter distances and is totally overmatched in class. The bottom line is that no one can stop someone from running his horse. All we can hope is that this particular horse doesn’t alter the course of history.

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Getting back to Big Brown, hoof specialist Ian McKinlay was enjoying breakfast in The Morning Line kitchen and had good reason to smile. McKinlay, after having examined Big Brown’s quarter crack earlier, said: “Perfect. It’s a done deal. When I pressed on it this morning I knew we had turned the corner. We’ll patch it on Friday and it will be a non issue.”

A walk in the rain

It may sound strange, but with so few Belmont horses at Belmont Park this week, one of the highlights was watching the three Japanese horses, led by Casino Drive, walk around the paddock for 45-50 minutes under the watchful eye of trainer Kazuo Fujisawa, who arrived Tuesday night. That’s a highlight you ask? The answer is an emphatic ‘yes.’ When the Japanese horses walk it is a highlight.

If there is any question about the fitness of Casino Drive, all one had to do was stand in the paddock and watch the clip at which he walks and how long he and stablemates Spark Candle and Champagne Squall sustain that pace. At one point during their walk, three Jimmy Toner-trained horses entered the ring and began walking well ahead of the Japanese horses. In a short time, the Japanese trio were right on their heels. If this were an auto race they would have easily lapped them. Jockey Yoshi Aoki on Casino Drive said something to the riders of the Toner horses and they left the walking ring and went into the saddling area, as if they were slow drivers pulling off the road to allow the faster cars to pass them.

After the Japanese horses passed, they resumed their walk, and several minutes later, here was Casino Drive right on their heels again. Once again, they left the walking ring to let the Japanese horses pass by. It may not sound too exciting in print, but you had to be there. The Japanese horses finally made their way to the track for a once around jog/easy gallop. Exercise rider Jose Cuevas, galloping one of Bobby Frankel’s horses, was behind Casino Drive and he was feeling good and trying to buck.

The three horses then left the track and walked briskly through the stable area for another 30-40 minutes. These horses are happy, relaxed, and extremely well conditioned. Anyone who dismisses Casino Drive off his two slow, unpublished “works” should think twice. He may not win, but if he doesn’t it won’t because he’s not fit enough. Fujisawa obviously has his own training methods, which is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. But he has three horses who surely have to be a lot happier than our horses, many of whom are out of their stalls for about 15 minutes a day and cooped up in there for the other 23 hours and 45 minutes. The three Japanese horses, in a addition to their morning walk, are out every day on the grass outside the barn.

Denis and Macho arrive

Finally some new faces. Denis of Cork, third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), and Macho Again, second in the Preakness (gr. I), arrived from Louisville at around 3:45. Both colts looked good physically and have held their flesh well, but we’ll get better look at them Thursday when they go to the track. Icabad Crane, third in the Preakness, arrived on Tuesday and looked sensational.