Wednesday, June 04, 2008

You Betta' Be Talkin' 'Bout His Mama: Casino Drive Has a Womb with a View on the Belmont

By Steve Brady

[BELMONT UPDATE 6/7/08: Casino Drive, the second favorite in the Belmont Stakes, was scratched from the race. The colt suffered a stone bruise at some unknown point since arriving in Elmont, N.Y., in late April. Casino Drive reportedly will be returning to Japan to continue his career.]

Big Brown (looking majestically big and brown, left) had another stunning victory in the Preakness, crossing the wire under wraps from Kent Desormeaux, who wanted to make sure he saved enough horse for the third leg of the Triple Crown. BB’s performance in the Kentucky Derby scared off any real competition, and he blew away the weak field that showed up for the second leg. If he wins the Belmont Stakes Saturday—live coverage is 5:30-7 p.m., EST, ABC-TV—he will be the first Triple Crown winner since Steve Cauthen captured it aboard Affirmed exactly 30 years ago.

In light of Big Brown's dominance, it would seem that his only credible remaining challenger is a very lightly raced wild card, whose story involves a circumstance so farfetched it makes winning the Triple Crown seem almost mundane. Newcomer Casino Drive’s dam is Better Than Honour, who also foaled Rags to Riches and Jazil, the Belmont winners from the past two years.

Uhhh… we’re already talking about an amazing accomplishment. Mares can only have one foal per year. Dropping two stakes winners in a row would be impressive enough, but she’s had two consecutive Belmont winners (one of which was a filly!!!), and this third one is going to be the second favorite to what many are calling the greatest colt since Secretariat!! And by three separate stallions??!! I mean, I know Peyton and Eli turned out to be pretty good football players, but Olivia Manning, NFL mom: You've met your match.

Casino Drive (left) was born in Kentucky and shipped off to Japan as a yearling. There he thrived under the stewardship of trainer Kazuo Fujisawa. He won his debut by 11½ lengths on February 23 in Kyoto under jockey Yutaka Take. Here is Casino Drive’s impressive win. (Yes, horses run clockwise in Japan.)

CD was then sent back to the U.S., where he had to endure two months of mandatory quarantine before he could race. The time on the bench didn’t cause him to miss a beat. He romped in the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes on this same Belmont course, and finished that mile-and-1/8 race in 2/5 of a second faster than Big Brown’s time in the Florida Derby. Click here for the video.

Due to prior obligations in Japan, Take will not be traveling to the Belmont. Ironically, Casino Drive’s rider in his only U.S. race is Big Brown’s jockey, Desormeaux. That means Edgar Prado will be the third set of hands grabbing CD’s reins in as many races. Prado is best known for riding the ill-fated Barbaro to victory in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, but he is also known as a Triple Crown spoiler, having stopped the bids of both War Emblem in 2002 (atop Sarava) and Smarty Jones in 2004 (atop Birdstone).

Meanwhile, Big Brown has foot problems. His trainer Richard Dutrow has dismissed the quarter crack on his front hoof as minor, and he claims it will not affect BB in the Belmont. Dutrow hired the best pedicurist in the business, farrier Jim McKinlay, to work on his colt with the mega-million-dollar stud price tag. Even so, winning the Triple Crown remains the rarest of achievements, and, as we all know, battles have been lost for want of a nail.

Perhaps Big Brown is the greatest racehorse in 30 years, and maybe his march to immortality will not be derailed. Yet his Triple Crown attempt risks being trumped by an even rarer accomplishment: Better Than Honour’s motherhood hat trick.

The Picks:
Casino Drive
Big Brown
Denis of Cork
Da' Tara

View the complete Belmont field here.

Steve Brady is Sports Media America's resident horse-racing handicapper. He lives and works in Los Angeles and maintains a regular presence on the Southern California track scene. He is an avid Dodgers fan, too. Steve also performs and teaches with the improvisational comedy ensemble Cold Tofu.

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