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Monday, March 31, 2008

All Big Brown, All The Time

- Big Brown-mania has already reached overseas. Chris McGrath, writing in the UK's The Independent, was so taken with Big Brown that he opined that Dutrow's colt is not only an obvious candidate for the Kentucky Derby, but a feasible rival, later in the year, for Curlin himself. McGrath seems to be getting a little ahead of himself. Or is he? Big Brown got a 106 Beyer for the Florida Derby, by far the best two-turn fig in a Derby prep this season, and did it while dominating what was considered, at least before the race, a strong, wide-open field. It sure didn't get bet like one, did it? I got at least one thing right before the race when I wrote that "I wouldn't be at all shocked to see him go off at 2-1 or even less." It turned into essentially a two-horse betting race, with Big Brown the 3-2 choice, and Elysium Fields, who "was on the verge of a heat stroke when we got him back to the barn" according to Barclay Tagg [DRF], a solid second choice at 5-2. Fierce Wind, 10th at 7-1 (with no excuse that I've seen), was the only other horse in single digits. Even Tomcito, who'd gotten a fair amount of press, was dead on the board, at 12-1.

So the following are some thoughts on the new Derby favorite, and maybe some other subjects as well:

- I don't believe that the Derby distance will be a problem for Big Brown based on his pedigree, and from what we've seen thus far. I know that Boundary is considered to be a sprinter/miler sire, and that we prefer horses from the Raise A Native line based on recent history. But Nureyev, his broodmare sire, should add some stamina, and I love that wacky inbreeding to Damascus and Round Table; the latter in particular, from the Princequillo line, adds some potential staying power to the equation. Also, the dosage guys must love this one; he has a total of 36 Chefs-de-Race (23 in the midrange Classic category) and a dosage index of 1.67.

- I watched the head on replay at Cal Racing - I know that davidrex has been having problems, but I've seen it now several times, so try it again. The horse was all over the stretch, and Haskin described what he saw:

The only odd thing was jockey Kent Desormeaux pulling on the left rein a total of seven times after the colt appeared to drift out slightly. Even as he drifted back toward the rail, Desormeaux kept pulling on the left rein. At one point, Desormeaux’s butt went flying off the left side of the horse’s body before popping back over the saddle. When it did, Big Brown became a bit unbalanced and dipped his head and shoulder for one stride. It didn’t affect the stretch run; it just made for an awkward moment. [Bloodhorse]
We've all read about Big Brown's foot problems, but it's entirely possible that it was just him being green. Steve Davidowitz, writing in the subscriber-only DRF Plus section of the Form, contemplates a darker explanation:
Aside from sheer inexperience, Big Brown's shift towards the rail occurred despite a left-hand whipping from jockey Kent Desormeaux, and this raised a potentially troubling question: Was this in any way attributable to the colt's hoof problems that previously interrupted his career?

While such speculation may be completely off the mark, Big Brown's hoof problems will remain a background issue unless he puts in regularly spaced workouts from now to Derby Day. Given Big Brown's inherent speed and prior physical issues, it is hard not to recall the troubles that affected Unbridled's Song, who won the 1996 Florida Derby just as impressively as Big Brown only to suffer recurring hoof problems during Derby Week that undermined his Derby bid.
Even if he's just green, I think that's still something to consider before backing him in the Derby at short odds.

- I don't think that Big Brown is going to rate in the Derby should War Pass or someone else flash high speed. A couple of readers mentioned that he rated in his allowance win, but, I've often noticed speed horses that may have appeared to rate at a sprint distance, but don't when they go two turns. Bellamy Road (a horse that I'm keeping in mind in my effort to retain some healthy skepticism here) had a running line like that. Big Brown's allowance race wasn't a sprint, but it was a one-turn mile with sprint fractions early, including a second quarter of 22 2/5. So I don't think his being second was anything more than his being outsprinted at that point. And I believe that if War Pass shows flashes of his old self in the Wood and makes it to the Derby starting gate, there will be a real possibility of a speed duel. Of course, if I'm wrong about that as I may very well be, then maybe Chris McGrath isn't jumping the gun after all.

- Pyro, who has suddenly been forgotten, worked six furlongs at Keeneland in 1:14.60.
“I got him galloping out in 1:27 3/5 and the last five-eighths in 1:00 4/5,” said assistant trainer Scott Blasi, who supervised the move for trainer Steve Asmussen, who was in Dallas.

Keeneland clockers caught the pair in :23 for the final quarter, and :11.20 for the last eighth. [Bloodhorse]
He worked with stablemate Sonoma Cat. You can watch portions of the workout in this Zen-like video on the Keeneland site. I can now see myself starting to get excited about Pyro. I still think that he should be considered the favorite, and I discount the significance of his slower Beyers. If War Pass rules the Wood, and Pyro loses the Blue Grass after being too far back after six furlongs in 1:17, then maybe Asmussen's colt could be third or fourth choice come Derby day.

- Georgie Boy is out with a pulled muscle.


Anonymous said...

You know how I feel about Curlin, but even Mr. Universe is vulnerable to Classic Grade I speed in a paceless race. But his people are too smart to allow this to happen. And he won't be allowed to be ground down again (Triple Crown), so only traffic, a terrible trip or a freaky three-year-old for the ages could stop him.

Like any sport, however, health issues have deleted many best laid plans and dreams.

Hope Curlin finds time for grass---been saying this for a year now.

Anonymous said...

Jay Privman reports that Fierce Wind bled in the Florida Derby; also that he's been transferred from Zito to Violette.

Anonymous said...

I havent forgotten about Pyro, and you can be sure he will have a rabbit in the Derby. While I think War Pass will reprise his last race this Saturday,and then head to the sidelines, I almost hope he does rebound so I can get real value on Pyro.

Shame about Georgie, a very good horse whose connections would have made a very good story Derby Week.

Think Boundary's average winning distance is about 6.1f, and Nuryev, while a stamina runner, I believe has been mostly a sprint influence of the Northern Dancer line.

Agree about the interesting distance inbreeding, he does have a shot based on that alone.

But he will remain against in my book, with or without his foot problems and/or being green. The FLA Derby field was full of potential but only one horse delivered.

I give credit for the deliverance but he has an uphill climb going from that race into a 20 horse field going 10f in only his 4th start, most likely facing at least one rabbit and one legitimate speed horse.

I suspect Zito was fired for not sending Fierce Wind to the front, I know it annoyed the hell out of me.

Anonymous said...

A rabbit in the Derby is going to be hard to come by. The days of Spanish Chestnut getting in but so ill suited to the 1 1/4 mi that its a farce to have him there are so few.

Perhaps someone can do a deal with Kodiak Kowbow's owners and ask that sprinter to upset the apple cart in Louisville.

I miss called the FLA Derby and under estimated Big Brown's talent. Props to him. Although I still stand behind the call on Tomcito. Dropping into a G1 after being off 5 months and taking 3rd is very good.

I'm still saying Big Brown = Showing Up although SU didn't wander as much in the stretch despite being as equally green.

Anonymous said...

I like the analogy to Showing Up.

True it is harder to get in the Derby now, but Assmussen has a few that already have the earnings and sure the owner$ can be convin$ed.

Anonymous said...

Big Brown went 45.83 seconds for the half mile and came home in 148 flat.

I challenge you all to find one 9-furlong Derby prep in the last 25 years where a horse went under 46 seconds for the first half mile and won by open lengths in less than 1 minute and 49 seconds.

I think BALTO STAR might have done it, but I'm not sure.

Anonymous said...

And where was ESPN when Elysium Fields was melting on the way to the post: in commercial and then showing a shot of the track announcer. Since this is the second week in a row that ESPN has been in commercial while the field for a Derby prep was going to and loading into the gate, I'm assuming that this is what we can expect from them going forward. The difference in horse racing savvy between the Florida Derby and Dubai World Cup productions was enormous. Here's hoping NBC does a better job this weekend.


Anonymous said...

Honestly, EF looked to be a little hot but certainly not washing out - either in the paddock or the gate (I was on the rail as they approached the gate). I noticed it, but nothing dramatic.

BB Frank was done in the paddock. He kicked twice, once kicking through the surrounding hedge to the metal railing. Actually knocked some guys watch off his wrist. Could've been ugly.