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May 23, 2008

Big Brown set for Triple Crown

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It has been 30 years since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown champion. The longest dry spell since Secretariat snapped a 25 year drought in 1973.

Big Brown is on the verge of becoming that first Triple Crown winner since 1978. He has easily disposed of his competition in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Jockey Kent Desormeax didn't even use the whip in his rocking chair ride in the Preakness.

"I didn't think I needed it," Desormeaux joked about forgetting to bring his whip on his first trip down to the paddock. "I decided -- that's not true. I didn't forget my whip. That's the valet's job. The valet didn't bring it because I usually bring my own stick out. He didn't have it. I had started to walk out to grab it from him. He didn't have it. I went right back in the room and found it where it's supposed to be."

His mount has made it look unbelievably easy in winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Big Brown is the first three-year-old since Smarty Jones in 2004 to go into the Belmont Stakes with a chance to sweep the three races.

"Everyone can see he is a special kind of horse," noted trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. "As long as we can keep him well within himself, we'll have a chance."

How good Big Brown truly is cannot now be determined. The growing consensus has Big Brown being a good horse in a bad year. None of the other runners have shown themselves to be in his class.

Waiting in the wings is Peter Pan Stakes winner Casino Drive. He was ridden in that race by Desormeaux, but now must find a new jockey.

"He just ran a big race, a big number. He's going to have to come back in a month off that race, which isn't going to be easy for him," Dutrow said about Casino Drive. "Most of the time when horses come in from other countries and they're in quarantine for so long, they run good off the plane but then they've got to sit a long time and their next race might not be so strong. I don't know why, but that's usually how it goes. I'd like to have the horse, but I don't see him beating Big Brown. What I saw of him, he doesn't have that quick turn (of foot), where he just turns it on."

Casino Drive happens to be a half-brother to Jazil and Rags to Riches, the winners of the last two Belmont Stakes.

"Now, we have three weeks to go to the Belmont Stakes," said Nobutaka Tada, managing director of Globe Equine Management Ltd, "and he has three weeks to improve. And he has so much potential to improve. He likes it here at Belmont Park. He feels like he's home. He's an American-bred, so he is home."

Desormeaux handled Casino Drive in the Peter Pan like he would Big Brown in the Preakness. Desormeaux calmly waited until the stretch before tipping his horse out and sending him to the Belmont Stakes.

Should Big Brown win the Belmont Stakes to become the 12th Triple Crown champion, it really won't matter that his competition was less than first- class. So few thoroughbreds have swept the Triple Crown that the first horse to do so in 30 years will deserve to have his name next to the other greats.

"Everybody wants to see something great," Dutrow said. "Maybe we're going to see that. That'd be a lot of fun. Everybody's going to find out where he belongs. If he wins his next race, he's going to be up there with any good horse that's ever run. When everybody's talking about him, he'd be in the same breath as Secretariat, Affirmed, all those good ones."

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