OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) - Is Big Brown really back?
After a too-close-for-comfort victory in Sunday's $1 million
Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, there could be more
questions than answers about Big Brown's future.
Yes, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner bounced back from
his last-place finish in the Belmont Stakes eight weeks ago. But
no, the win was far from overpowering against six weak rivals who
had combined for two graded stakes wins.
Neither trainer Rick Dutrow nor co-owner Michael Iavarone would
commit to Big Brown's next race after his 1¾-length victory over
Coal Play, but Dutrow all but ruled out the Travers at Saratoga on
Aug. 23. Both were noncommittal about possible races next month
before a planned career-ending run in the $5 million Breeders' Cup
Classic at Santa Anita.
"I think right now Rick will evaluate him and we'll plan a
sensible campaign," said Iavarone, co-president of IEAH Stables,
majority owner of Big Brown. "The Breeders' Cup Classic is the
It might not be a realistic goal.
Big Brown has been syndicated for a reported $50 million and
will be retired to stud after his final race. The next step would
be to take on older horses, perhaps even 2007 Horse of the Year
Curlin. However, Big Brown had a tough time defeating a weak field
of 3-year-olds in the 1 1-8-mile Haskell, and another loss could
affect his value as a stallion.
Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown shot to the lead but Coal
Play quickly took over and led into the stretch in front of a
cheering crowd of 45,132. The colt trained by Nick Zito, who won
the Belmont with 38-1 shot Da' Tara, dug in under local favorite
Joe Bravo but could not hold off Big Brown's rush to the wire.
"I was concerned at the 3-8ths pole and it looked like we were
beat turning for home," Dutrow said. "But he got down on his
belly and he won, though."
Said Zito: "I thought we had a helluva shot turning for home. I
thought to myself `we could do this again.' I am very happy right
now. We made him run, that's for sure. Big Brown looked great in
the paddock and when he broke. But down the backside I got excited.
Coal Play ran a big race."
It was a side of Big Brown that had not been seen before. The
colt won his first five starts by a combined 39 lengths, then was
pulled up by Desormeaux with a quarter-mile to go in the Belmont.
No injuries were found after that race - not from a quarter
crack in his left front hoof or from a loose shoe at the start.
Iavarone also said the decision to stop giving Big Brown the
steroid Winstrol in April was not a factor in the loss.
Big Brown trained solidly for his return. Coming into the
Haskell, Dutrow was full of confidence: "If he runs his race,
He didn't run his race, but he still won, and that's the way Big
Brown's connections will view the result.
"His reputation was on the line today," said Iavarone. "He's
a top horse. It was little more than I was expecting - he really
struggled out there to run this horse down but Zito's horse ran
The win was in doubt until the final six strides, when Big Brown
prevailed on a sunny day with temperatures in the low 80s.
When Desormeaux went to the whip entering the stretch, Dutrow
said, "I thought we were going to get beat."
Added Desormeaux: "He found a new gear and just kept sticking
his neck out. I knew he was going to get there. At the top of the
stretch that horse (Coal Play) took off, but Big Brown took off
after him. ... Today, he showed he's a warrior."
Sent off as the 1-5 favorite, Big Brown covered the 1 1-8 miles
Cool Coal Man, also trained by Zito, was third, followed by
Alaazo, Nistle's Crunch, Atoned and Magical Forest. Big Brown
returned $2.40 for a $2 win bet.
The win was worth $600,000 for owners IEAH Stables, Paul Pompa
Jr., Gary Tolchin and Andrew Cohen and boosted Big Brown's bankroll
Big Brown is the second Kentucky Derby winner to win the
Haskell, first run in 1968. The other was War Emblem in 2002.
Possibly races for Big Brown's next start include the
Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 1, the MassCap on Sept. 20, or the
Jockey Club Gold Cup or Goodwood Breeders' Cup (both Sept. 27).