The fallen idol that America loves to hate is back in action for the first time on Sunday since he forgot to show up for the Belmont to claim his Triple Crown. He runs in the Haskell at Monmouth. That along with the Travers at the end of August at Saratoga are the two most prestigious mid-summer races for three year olds – the bridge between the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup. Big Brown faces a solid but undistinguished field of six other runners in the race. He will carry 122 pounds wile the rest will tote 118.
If he is sound and ready to go then Big Brown should win with relative ease. He started slowly in his training after the Belmont, but his recent efforts have been inspiring and steadily improving. We won’t know if he is right until he runs, but all indications are that he should be fine. He has been installed as the 1/2 favorite starting out of the fourth gate. His chief competitor, at 4/1, is Cool Coal Man. This is a horse that causes me to pull my hair out. I loved him in his win of the Fountain of Youth over a strong field, but then he burned my money twice in a row in lousy showings in the Blue Grass and Kentucky Derby. He regrouped with a win over this same Monmouth track in June, and will be ready to press Big Brown if he isn’t at his best. Atoned was second in Cool Coal Man’s last win, and he is the third choice here at 6/1. The Todd Pletcher trainee has long been highly touted, but never seems to be quite good enough. I’ll look elsewhere. Beyond that it’s hard to find a horse to like in the field – each has questions with the surface or the class.
It’s telling that, despite his well chronicled challenges, the big horses are actively avoiding Big Brown. The Jim Dandy was a very tough field last weekend, and three or four horses from that race could have been second choice here. Saturday’s West Virginia Derby doesn’t have nearly the cachet of the Haskell, yet it has a much tougher field, including Derby runners Recapturetheglory and Z Fortune. It seems as if the other trainers aren’t yet ready to count out th Derby and Preakness winner.
I am very hopeful that Big Brown has a big race, and not just because I have two very expensive Breeders’ Cup tickets purchased partly to see him in the flesh. I would be as confident about his chances as the odds suggest I should be if it weren’t for one thing – trainer Rick Dutrow. He showed on the Triple Crown trail that he is the cockiest human being on the planet. Now he is showing uncharacteristic humility. Dutrow has a horse called Sis City who was heavily favored to win the Kentucky Oaks in 2005. There were no good excuses for her flat fourth place finish. Despite training well, the horse never won another race. Dutrow keeps revisiting that experience in the media, and that spooks me a bit – is he seeing some of the same signs in Big Brown? I hope not, but I guess it helps to make this race more interesting. I’m not sure if I could handle that. I really liked that horse, and I lost money on her in the Oaks and a couple of times afterwards. I don’t know if I can handle the disappointment again.