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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Big Day For Monmouth and Big Brown

A perfect weather day, and a crowd of over 45,000 at Monmouth for the Haskell. It was less than the 50K that was hoped for, but it was a big crowd for the track nonetheless. And I have to say that I can't imagine any track anywhere doing a better job of accommodating it. With the exception of the poor women standing on line for the bathrooms, unfortunately a common sight at any crowded venue not progressive in potty equality, I personally didn't notice any customer hardship whatsoever. There were betting windows, food, and drink aplenty - even a bar set up within the paddock! I've never seen that before at any track. I imagine that somewhere there are those who may complain of being shut out of wagering, but he/she has only themselves to blame. I did most of my wagering on the second floor clubhouse, and enjoyed walk-up service to the betting machines all day long, no matter how many MTP. I find it funny how horseplayers in NJ don't use the self-service machines; I find that to be the case at the Meadowlands as well. Big days in NY are the only times I find I ever have to use the manned windows, but it's exactly the opposite across the river.

So, huge kudos to the management and workers at Monmouth for doing an excellent job!!

Despite the crowd, I was able to get right up the railing staring into the saddling area before the Haskell. Here's Dutrow soon after Big Brown was led into the paddock. Don't know what the scene was after the race, as I was soon heading out to the parking lot. But I never saw him and Iavarone together beforehand, and the trainer cut a strangely isolated, and obviously tense figure. Here's a few more shots of trainer and horse before the race.

Our initial reaction after the race was similar to that of some of the comments I've read here - one of being quite underwhelmed. Between the urgency shown by Desormeaux before they even turned for home, the full out stretch drive to collar a horse with relatively modest credentials, and the bearing out in the stretch, when one person in our box said that Big Brown will never run again, I nodded in agreement. However, upon further review, I've come around on his effort.

We know that virtually any horse who's lone speed on that surface is going to take some catching. Coal Play, as erratic as he's been, is a colt that has shown some ability when able to have his own way on the lead; he'd earned a 102 Beyer on the Monmouth track two races back. In fact, throw out his non-two turn races, and he has a pretty impressive record overall. He may have gone quickly early, but he was able to maintain a steady pace - after getting the half in 46.59, he put in subsequent quarters of 24.46 and 24.35 taking him to the eighth pole. So, at a point where 98% of the time, the front-runner would be slowing down after going 1:10.4 to three-quarters, Coal Play actually picked up the pace. No surprise then, that he and Joe Bravo were able to lengthen their lead on Big Brown at that point.

So, I think it was no mean feat that Big Brown was able to run this horse down, even though he understandably tired to a final furlong of 13.11. We often wonder how a horse who's shown considerable ability - enough in Big Brown's case to overwhelm the Derby and Preakness fields - will do when confronted with adversity. Big Brown, in his first such test (forgetting the Belmont if you will), responded admirably, showing persistence and fortitude in getting the job done.

As far as the drifting out goes, it obviously raises alarms considering his well-documented foot problems. Desormeaux said that that's the horse's tendency, and that, in this case, he didn't fight him as long as he was moving forward. But if the race raised questions, it answered some too. There didn't seem to be any carryover from the Belmont fiasco; and the horse showed that he can dig down for extra when he needs to. Whether he's "way better than Curlin," as a suddenly once-again brash Dutrow asserted after the race, is certainly up for debate. But at least now perhaps we'll have a chance to find out.

- Those who devote time and energy in their pitiful lives to wishing me ill will in my betting endeavors can raise a glass and toast in celebration - I had a miserable betting day start to finish. I lost the races I bet, and didn't bet the races I should have, and I'll just leave it at that for now. In fact, I feel like I should cease and desist from betting on horse races until we finally make it to Saratoga for the Alabama.

However, my futility certainly did not cast a pall on a nearly perfect racing day. Whatsmore, if you still think there's no recession, how about ZERO traffic (other than a brief backup for The Police concert at the arts center off the Parkway) driving up from the Jersey Shore on a summer Sunday evening? I think it took me more time to get down there in the morning. And, just to top off the day, there was an absolutely stunning full-arc rainbow lording over Staten Island as I passed through. Hoping that's a sign of some more fruitful wagering days ahead!


Anonymous said...

Screw Dutrow but not the horse he rode in on.

El Angelo said...

Big Brown got a 106 Beyer for the Haskell, which I'm guessing gives Coal Play ~100. That makes it a better effort for Big Brown, albeit still not as dominating as Dutrow bluster would have you believe.

Anonymous said...

Does Dutrow only have the one shirt?


Anonymous said...


I have to put my two cents in re the accomodations at Monmouth. I have been going there for a looong, looong, time.

The track has been gradually downsized over the years. this is understandable because racetracks just don't attract the crowds they used to. But, when you anticipate a big crowd, you have to accomodate it. Mth did the opposite.

For several years I have been sitting out by the walking ring where they had lots of lawn chairs, some in sunshine, some in shade. They took them away this year. They also had wooden benches that ringed the Lady's Secret Cafe. These are almost all gone too. Too what purpose?

The older I get the more I believe in, and like to cite, Hellers Law (after Joseph Heller of Catch-22 fame).

The first myth of management is that it exists.

Whoever at Mth thought that the above changes were a good idea - you don't know your ass from your earlobe.


Anonymous said...

From Sunny Jim in New Jersey

Bally -

I too have been going to Monmouth for a long time and I think your analysis is spot on. But for one day a year - Haskell Day - the track brushes up against greatness and the sparks are in the air.

That paddock photo of Alan's captured the moment. Loud cheering went up as Big Brown made his way toward the tunnel. If these people had roses to throw at the horse they would have done it. I mean, what does a horse know from cheering and accolades? But they were doing it anyway.

And regarding Joe Bravo, who damn near beat him on the front end: Bravo could compete on the New York or California circuit if he wanted to but every summer he comes back to Monmouth to be top rider there for 13, 15 years now. He always keeps his horses in great position to win, and does it better than Julie Krone did when she was top Monmouth rider, and Chris Antley before her. Hell, I even remember Walter Blum.


Anonymous said...

Alan, so, I didn't see any hint of an answer in re the $64 question: Travers or no Travers for Big Brown? These guys are NY guys so they should be in NY's biggest race, the 4th Jewel of the Triple Crown, doncha think? Charlie Hayward, time to get on the phone! /S/Green Mtn Punter

Alan Mann said...

Punter - Given this horse's history and all the drama around him and his human connections, I think the $64 question is always "will he run again?" Travers is about a 99 cent question in my opinion, because no way in the world he runs there in my view.

Surprised to hear the sour comments about Monmouth from more regular fans. I only make it down there once or twice a year, but have never had a bad experience. In fact, even yesterday, I was able to find a spot on Somebenchsomewhere throughout the day. However, I won't dispute the word of you Jersey guys on this.

El Angelo said...

I can't see them running in the Travers. It's "too close" in Dutrow's world, and what's the upside? He's already wrapped up the 3yo title and would only lessen his value if he lost to some mediocrity. They're crazy if they run him against 3yos again, and if they want to keep him running, should point for either Commentator or Curlin.

Anonymous said...

You bet Richard Fields is already working on a Mass Cap showdown between Commentator and Big Brown.

Excellent timing, and might even get me up to the old track.

Anonymous said...

No Travers for BB, the Times Union called Rick Monday morning and the answer was "no".

I think today's 5th race at Spa for 2-yr old maidens on turf marked the first winner bearing a name tied to the Spitzer scandal - the winner in a dead head was Skipdate and Marylout Whitney owned, DWL trained, "Ninth Client".

It was nifty effort by that long shot runner making his 2nd start.

Anonymous said...

"Way better than Curlin?"

That's the dumbest thing i've heard in quite a while. I have to wonder who Dutrow thinks he's fooling when he says something like that. He can't possibly believe it, can he?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to echo both sunny jim and especially bally's comments.

I'm @ mth pretty much every weekend and the moronic way that management has dealt with the people who hang out on the 'grassy knoll' around the paddock is about as un-tuned in as possible with regard to their regular customers.

It seems mth's idea of dealing with crowds is "No - you can't sit there and you can't drink there and we're going to make sure of that by taking out all the paddock seating, parking trucks on some of the last green grass we have around the walking ring and roping it off just to make sure. Also we're going to make it hard to bet too - we're going to take out the machines from the area and replace them with non-existent tellers that only show up for ONE day a year".

And this happens on days when there's 10k people there on a normal Saturday afternoon.

Contrast this to my Saratoga visit opening weekend with substantially more people in attendance. We set up shop where we liked, drink where wherever we liked. I spent 4 days there and I behaved as I would at MTH and I did not get one hassle, not one and there was just as much 'secuirty' and 4 or 5 times as many people.

It's gotten completely ridiculous down there.

Anonymous said...

Guess the racing secretaries and executive big shots just don't have it like they once did?! The old timers like Trotter and Kenny Noe would have shamed BB's connections- IEAH, not Dutrow- into running in the Travers instead of standing by and taking "no" for an answer! Again, BB still has a chance at redemption but he would never get my vote unless he runs in the 4th Jewel, no guts no glory.

I would love to see another late blooming 3 YO to vote for the Eclipse. How can you assume BB has 3 YO crown wrapped up? Some of you commenters sound like mouthpieces for IEAH by spouting the party line. We want to see those guys earn it on the racetrack. Last in the Belmont and a struggling finish in the Haskell do not an Eclipse make. /S/Green Mtn Punter

SaratogaSpa said...

My question is this, if Dutrow truly believes BB is better than Curlin, and Curlin enters into the Woodward up at Saratoga on the 30th, wouldn't BB handlers feel pressure to take a shot at Curlin on the 30th?

El Angelo said...

GMP--he has 4 Grade 1 wins, including 2 legs of the Triple Crown races. As far as I know, no other 3yo has more than one G1 win this year. It would take something extraordinary like Pyro or Da'Tara winning the Travers, JCGC and BC Classic to contemplate unseating BB. And trust me, I don't like IEAH or Dutrow either. But if they actually had "no guts" they would have retired him after the Belmont.

The sad truth is that while the Travers is a big deal, I don't think horsemen see it as that much more prestigious than the Haskell.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:32p.m.

Even Steve Crist, publisher of the industry house organ DRF, concedes that Big Brown has the 3 yr. old title locked up.

Who would be your alternative?

Apparently you don't like IEAH. Don't take it out on the horse. I don't know where, or even if, he should run next but it damn sure shouldn't be the Travers.


Anonymous said...


I had the same initial reaction(the race was visually unimpressive, had trouble collaring a horse of modest credentials, etc.) + an equally similar subsequent feeling.

I would just add that Big Brown passed loose speed on a conveyor belt, off of a 5 week layoff, against a horse that ran the race of his career, after relinquishing the lead early and rating effectively. Yes the field was weak, symptomatic of the awful 3 yo crop as a whole. However, popping off a speed figure of that magnitude given the cirucmstances (and liklihood that the foot is still an issue) is pretty impressive.

Anonymous said...

Please, please, there is no comparison between the Travers and Haskell. Year in, year out, over the past 139, the Travers has had more big name 3 YO's than the Haskell ever dreamed of.

NY horsemen certainly realize this and that is why IEAH and Dutrow, NY horsemen, look like the BS'ers they are by backing down from The Big Race of the Summer. Talk is cheap: Run your damn horse if you think he's so great!

Resting on the overrated laurels of the Derby and Preakness wins may, alas, do it for the gullible media but it doesn't fool old dogs like me. I can't imagine any intelligent, well informed racing writer weighting the Haskell on a par with the Travers.

If you duck the Travers, the most prestigious summer Grade I for 3 YO's, you're ipso facto looking to finesse your way to a 3 YO title. The Travers is meant to sort out the winners of the Triple Crown races, that's why it's called the "4th Jewel". /S/Green Mtn Punter