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Hoof, weather only issues for Big Brown
By Joe Kristufek | Daily Herald Handicapper
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Published: 6/6/2008 12:01 AM

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On Saturday at 5:17 p.m., the eyes of most of the world will be on Belmont Park.

For 1½ miles, Kentucky Derby and Preakness romper Big Brown will chase the holy grail of thoroughbred racing, attempting to become the first horse in 30 years to capture the Triple Crown.

Affirmed was the last horse to do it. His 1978 battles with Alydar are legendary.

Big Brown has no archrivals. In five starts, no horse has gotten within 4¾ lengths.

In recent years, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones won the Derby and the Preakness but were denied their place in history in the Belmont Stakes.

With the exception of Chicago hero War Emblem, as well as Smarty Jones, I rooted against them all. I loved it when Victory Gallop nailed Real Quiet, and when Funny Cide got stuck in the mud.

Besides history, Big Brown has two factors that may work against him. Unfortunately, one of those isn't the collective talent of his competition.

The most obvious problem is his damaged hoof. A horse with notoriously bad feet, he developed a quarter crack in his left front. It has healed amazingly well, and he calmed fears that it could affect his effort with a stellar 5-furlong workout Tuesday.

The second issue may be the weather. Saturday's temperatures may climb into the low 90s, and some horses can't handle heat, especially over 12 grueling furlongs.

Big Brown is special, but he has benefited by racing against an average group of 3-year-olds. He has a high cruising speed but is rateable. When asked, he simply explodes, regardless of the distance. He may relish Belmont's 12 furlongs.

Many believe the rail post may hinder him, but with Da'Tara the only horse who hints of tactical speed, he should have no problem finding early position.

Infusing intrigue into the Belmont is the Japanese-based Casino Drive. This blue-blooded son of Mineshaft is a half-brother to the last two Belmont winners, Jazil and Rags to Riches.

Pedigree notwithstanding, he also has proven himself on the track, breaking his maiden by 11 increasing lengths in February, and returning 11 weeks later to smash his Grade II Peter Pan competition by nearly 6 lengths at Belmont. Reports on his training. However, have been far from off the charts.

Denis of Cork, who rattled off 3 consecutive wins to begin his career, shook off his Grade II Illinois Derby clunker to finish third in the Kentucky Derby. Off sluggishly in the Run for the Roses, he made up steady ground and finished fast to grab the show dough. Rested and ready for the Belmont, he acts like a horse who will relish 12 furlongs.

Macho Again had ups and downs early in his career but appeared to turn the corner two back, winning the Derby Trial in game fashion.

Prior to the Preakness, his lone two-turn test came over Polytrack in the Grade II Lane's End at Turfway, and he finished seventh. His bloodlines suggested he may be a route horse all along, and he proved it in Baltimore by grabbing the place spot. He should be a major force the rest of the season.

If Big Brown brings his "A" game, they'll all be running for second money.

I took a lot of flack in my horseplayerpro.com blog for stating that it might be better for racing if Big Brown lost a heartbreaker Saturday.

My point was that the lure of the Triple Crown is in its elusiveness. To drum up the buzz, all we need is a horse to win the Derby and the Preakness. That gets everyone to pay attention to the Belmont.

Salvos were fired, with fellow bloggers comparing a failed run at the Triple Crown to a "what if" Neil Armstrong never landed on the moon, or Kerry Wood giving up a walk-off home run to Manny Ramirez in Game 7 of the World Series.

I'm rooting for Big Brown, but I'll only be truly satisfied if a loss results in a possible faceoff with Curlin. That would be momentous.

If Big Brown defies history and wins Saturday, that dream matchup won't materialize, and he will ride off into the sunset. Then the aura of the Triple Crown will be gone, and so will the horse who did it.

Kristufek's take on the 140th Belmont Stakes

The third jewel of thoroughbred racing's elusive Triple Crown will be run Saturday at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. Post time is 5:17 p.m., Chicago time.

1½ miles, purse $1 million, simulcast from Belmont Park of the Grade I Belmont Stakes, 3yo's:

PP Horse Jockey/trainer Odds Comment

1 Big Brown Desormeaux/Dutrow 2-5 Simply better than these

4 Denis of Cork Albarado/Carroll 12-1 This year's Birdstone?

5 Casino Drive Prado/Fujisawa 7-2 Adds international intrigue

3 Macho Again Gomez/Stewart 20-1 Preakness run-up

7 Tale of Ekati Coa/Tagg 20-1 4th in Derby, but rested

9 Ready's Echo Velazquez/Pletcher 30-1 Improving Pletcher charge

8 Anak Nakal Leparoux/Zito 30-1 12 furlongs may suit him

10 Icabad Crane Rose/Motion 20-1 Improving; distrance?

6 Da' Tara Garcia/Zito 30-1 Keeps BB honest early?

2 Guadalcanal Castellano/Seitz 50-1 What's he doing here?