Sunday, June 8, 2008

Big Brown: His Connections, So Eager to Celebrate, Forgot their Horse

In "And Justice for All," Al Pacino plays Arthur Kirkland, a criminal defense attorney. In the climatic scene, he explains to the jury that the prosecutor "wants a win so badly today, it means so much to him, he is so carried away with the prospect of winning, that he forgot something absolutely essential to today's proceeding. He forgot his case. He forgot to bring it."

And so it was with Richard Dutrow and Michael Iavarone, trainer and principal owner of Big Brown.

When Funny Cide and Smarty Jones were preparing for their tries at history in the Belmont, their trainers spoke with cautious, pensive optimism, mixed with respectful concern. Not so with Dutrow. As soon as the Preakness was over, a triumph in the Belmont was a foregone conclusion.

Cracked hoof ? No problem.

Four days of missed training? Won't hurt him a bit.

A new, clearly talented opponent ? Has no chance.

 Thirty years since a Triple Crown ? The other trainers didn't know how to train their horses.

Iavarone held discussions with NYC officials about a ticker tape parade, mused about how hefty sales of Big Brown merchandise might be, planned a $100 million horse hedge fund and signed a sponsorship with Hooters.

Since I thought about betting Casino Drive heavily to win the Belmont, I read their comments, looking for any foundation to justify their confidence. And I found none. As I wrote on Friday, Big Brown faced some serious obstacles in this Belmont, and most of them remained obstacles even after Casino Drive was scratched. Dutrow had no plan to overcome them, and his owner was on the same joy ride.

When the gates opened up on Saturday, it was revealed that Dutrow and Iavarone wanted a win so badly they had forgotten something absolutely essential to the day's proceeding: they forgot their horse.

From my vantage point, I knew the race was over before they entered the first turn. The horse, so placidly professional in the Derby and Preakness, was very rank and his head was not in the game; after settling down a little bit, he again began to get rank as soon as the serious running started, and his rider wisely eased him. There was Dutrow in the stands, wearing a Trump hat and preparing his acceptance speech. Pressed to explain the loss, he blamed his rider for pulling the horse up. As Arthur Kirkland would say, Dutrow was out of order.

Read more about what happened to Big Brown.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Casino Drive Will Win the Belmont; Big Brown May Be Off the Board

In my Kentucky Derby post, I noted it was one of the most difficult to predict in years. For the Preakness, I offered "some half-hearted picks." For the Belmont Stakes, I have a strong conviction that Casino Drive will win the race by a lengthy margin. And Big Brown may finish off the board.

Horses, like people, have good day and bad ones, and sometimes they get good, and sometimes they go bad and need a rest period. The essence of betting on horses is to predict whether a horse is going to run his best race, or throw in a clunker.

Big Brown has been in serious training since February and is running his 3rd race in five weeks; he will be tested for the first time ever; he is running a distance well beyond what his genes suggest is optimal for him; he missed a few days of training with a hoof injury; and his connections have sorely tempted fate by trampling on the dignity of the race by inviting Hooters onboard, and by planning victory celebrations, including discussions of a ticker tape parade in NYC. Did they learn nothing from the Patriots ?

Casino Drive ran just as fast in the Peter Pan Stakes as Big Brown did in the Preakness. As a half brother to Jazil, winner of the race in 2006, and 3/4 brother to the filly Rags to Riches, winner of the race in 2007, his breeding is ideal for the distance. And he has an "old school" Japanese trainer who has been the leading trainer in Japan 11 times, has had much success on the international stage, and has been pointing the horse to this race for more than a year. Casino Drive may have his own hoof problem which as of this moment could lead to his being scratched from the race, but rest assured that if his trainer runs him, he is sound.

Based on what I saw of this horse in the Peter Pan, I think he will grind Big Brown down, and that Big Brown will wilt in the face of his first serious competition. He is certainly good enough to beat the rest of the horses in the race, but his battle to win the race may weaken him, allowing the others to pass him for the Place and Show. This is what I expect to happen, and I'll be betting on Denis of Cork, Ready's Echo, Icabad Crane and Anak Nakal to round out the triple underneath Casino Drive. I will also box them with Casino Drive in case the top two choices do each other in.

For everything you need to know about the Belmont Stakes, visit our Web Guide.