Big Brown Poised For Triple Crown Bid

Big Brown, ridden by exercise rider Michelle Nevin, runs on the track at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. on Thursday, June , 2008. Big Brown is favored to win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 7. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)
AP Photo/Peter Morgan
OK, Big Brown. It's time for the big date with history.

All the obstacles in the colt's spectacular bid for the first Triple Crown in 30 years are fading faster than the pack in his Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes victories.

Big Brown's quarter crack is patched and the sturdy hoof that helped him stampede to an undefeated record is as strong as ever. And now his biggest challenger has been scratched.

Casino Drive, a horse from Japan, suffered a hoof injury yesterday. This morning he was barely able to put any weight on his back left leg. His owners decided to take him out of the running.

Racing manager Nobutaka Tada said Casino Drive was fine during a three-furlong jog early Saturday, but he appeared to be favoring the hoof while receiving a bath following the workout.

Tada said the decision to scratch the Peter Pan Stakes winner was a precautionary measure. He classified the injury as minor, but didn't want to take any chances during the grueling 1½-mile race.

The horse will be shipped back to Japan on Tuesday, but could return later this year to run in the Breeders' Cup.

The rest of the field is mostly longshots.

Nothing has changed trainer Rick Dutrow Jr's mind that the strapping bay colt will celebrate in the winner's circle at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday and win the first Triple Crown in 30 years.

"He's just the coolest horse that ever lived," Dutrow said.

It's been 30 years since Affirmed swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become horse racing's 11th Triple Crown winner. The drought has left the sport starved to anoint a savior. Three times this decade a horse won the first two legs of the series only to get tripped up on Belmont's grueling 1½-mile track.

"Triple Crown Brown" has a nice ring to it and the nickname could be his by nightfall.

"I just kind of daydream about being in these situations," jockey Kent Desormeaux said. "I dream about how I would react, what I should do."

Desormeaux is trying to make amends for blowing his shot a decade ago at making Triple Crown history. He led Real Quiet to wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, then the horse slowed down the stretch in the Belmont and lost by a nose to Victory Gallop.

Desormeaux still regrets the way he asked Real Quiet for an explosive early run.

"I think now I would do it differently," he said. "I know I won't make the same mistakes."

Big Brown is seeking to join Seattle Slew (9-0 in 1977) as the only undefeated Triple Crown winners. He's won all five of his races by a combined 39 lengths.

Big Brown was led to his bath mat Friday under the hold of exercise rider Michelle Nevin. He briefly turned his head toward the popping cameras and seemed to enjoy all the fuss.

But he got some privacy when he needed patch-up work.

Big Brown's barn was barricaded to keep gawkers away and the patch was glued in private. Ian McKinlay has been Big Brown's MVP - that would be Most Valuable Patcher. McKinlay removed the stainless steel sutures holding the crack together, cleaned the area, redrilled holes and put in new sutures. Then he covered it all up with an acrylic adhesive - the same kind used for the $550 glue-on shoes Big Brown wears on his front feet - that set in five minutes. The entire process took about 30 minutes.

"If that patch comes off, I might as well quit," McKinlay said.

Dutrow is undefeated, too, when it comes to perfectly timed quips. He's amused the masses with his brazen predictions, his potshots at the competition, and the way he peppers his answers to female reporters with an occasional "babe." Even other trainers get a kick out of Dutrow's candid answers.

"It's been nothing but thrilling," Dutrow said. "Maybe it doesn't show, but really, I'm having a ball."

Dutrow will not let Big Brown hit the track for a short run through the stretch early Saturday like he did the morning of the Preakness.

The first time Big Brown takes the long walk toward the track, he'll be led to the starting gate. Only a few minutes later, the sport will either have its savior - or just another dream that ended too soon.

"I'm Peter Pan flying off to the clouds," Desormeaux said. "That's how the dream ends."

Perhaps no one knows better than the owner of Secretariat, Penny Chenery, whose horse won the Triple Crown in 1973.

"He does not have a distance pedigree," Chenery told CBS News. But she sees in Big Brown some of what she saw in the horse affectionately known as Big Red

"He's not red, but I think he's a very similar horse. I think he's very talented."

Bill Stubblefield, a friend of jockey Kent Desormeaux, called Big Brown "a wizard."

"He's the best in the world," Stubblefield told CBS Early Show co-anchor Karyn Bryant. "And there will be no cause or concern" about his hoof today.

"The horse is tan, rested and ready."