Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Big Brown Stakes (a.k.a. The Monmouth)

IEAH got their race, on the date they requested with a purse they are happy with, now all that needs to happen is that the Big Brown has to run the race. I'm not so sure that IEAH got the field they wanted to run against. I think they believed BB would scare most of the competition away. But 500,000 reasons later and we have ourselves a race. While maybe not stellar, The Big Brown Stakes drew an extremely respectable field, worthy of a ranking in my opinion. So much so that if Monmouth continues the race for a few years it may get a ranking. But the suspicion that the Brown team didn't get the field they had hoped for comes from Michael Iavorone's stated conditions for claiming victory without crossing the wire first. Quoted in the DRF (Vol. CXIV no. 257 NY) he uses the industry standard doublespeak euphemisms -usually reserved for situations where one is trying to snatch moral victory from defeat- before the race is even ran, such as "We made it very clear that this race is a prep race" and "We're not looking for his best race here, we're looking for his best race in October... We could run second in this race like Curlin did [in the Man O' War] and be happy knowing we're going to move forward."

Well, there are a few differences between Curlin's run and this one. Curlin ran in a Grade I against two Breeders Cup winners in a race that Mike Watchmaker references as the "best U.S. turf race so far this year," in his Wathcmaker Watch rankings. While I'm not sure I would call the Man O' War this years best U.S. grass race, it nonetheless was a contentious grade I event that horses were pointing toward and had prepared specifically for. Big Brown's race was dictated by only his schedule. That is not to say that it won't work out well for the others as well but that doesn't detract from the benefit of having a race written for you. The other difference is that there were no excuses being made for Curlin before the race. They went into the race ready to raise the victory flag or shoulder the burden of a the failed experiment. In hindsight if the Man O' War was the best U.S. race on grass then it was a terrific result for Curlin! Especially in light of Asmussens assertion that he always runs better second time around on any track. Perhaps that would prove to be the case on any surface as well.

This sounds like a lot of Brown bashing and I suppose it is. But it's not the horse I'm bashing. I want to root for the horse because he's good for racing and because as a fan I want to be able to see horses that will be considered the sport's all time greats. For me it's just indigestible to hear claims akin to how he's the best horse the world has ever seen but then hear the management making those claims continually backpedaling with excuses, especially before the even have to!

I know Curlin is one of the best horses I've ever seen. I know that especially because he has danced all the dances for more than just his three year old season and has continued to be the top performer in the sport. I do know Big Brown is a good horse, has been precocious in his three year old season compared to his crop and has only one blemish on his report card. He can boost himself a lot in my eyes with a win today. I don't expect him to win. I think the race sets up best for Shakis (Ire*) but I wouldn't be shocked if he's good enough to win. I also wouldn't think that he's a bust if he runs a good second or third. But I want him to win. I want him to go out and create some excitement for racing and the Breeder's Cup.

If Big Brown does win I feel it will be the first time that team IEAH has the right to throw down the gauntlet to Jess Jackson and require him to send Curlin to the Breeder's cup to settle the debate. And if Jess Jackson wants to walk the walk he talks - to do what is best for racing - he will send his champion into the arena for the showdown everyone wants to see. A champion doesn't turn away from a fair fight. Champions find ways to overcome adverse conditions and circumstances. Neither Curlin or BB have run on synthetics, so a meeting at Santa Anita would be on a level playing field. If Big Brown goes out today and puts in a performance that inspires that punches his ticket as the number one contender to Horse of the Year then they both need to show up and face the flame!

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