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After another dominating performance in last Saturday’s Preakness, BIG BROWN is two-thirds of the way towards racing immortality. However, we’ve seen this movie before—starting with SMARTY JONES in 2004, preceded by FUNNY CIDE (’03), WAR EMBLEM (’02), CHARISMATIC (’99), REAL QUIET (’98) and SILVER CHARM (’97)—horses that won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but couldn’t close it out in the Belmont. The elusive chase to win the Triple Crown, last accomplished 30 years ago when AFFIRMED stuck his nose out to again defeat ALYDAR in the most dramatic of Belmonts, is extremely difficult. That’s why only 11 horses have accomplished the feat. Because three races at three different tracks and distances, crammed into a five-week period, is arduous for any horse, without even factoring in the competition and/or racing luck.

But there’s a real shot this time. Acknowledged by just about everyone as an exceptional animal, Big Brown’s task is made easier by the extremely weak crop of 3-year-olds that he has been facing. Talk about beating up on The Little Sisters of the Poor. Combine an outstanding (perhaps even great) horse with subpar competition, and it’s no wonder ‘Brown has been winning by big margins. But there will be one new shooter waiting in the lurch, CASINO DRIVE, the Peter Pan winner who came over from Japan and toyed with the competition while making only his second lifetime start. He looks like a real horse, with the pedigree to match (against astronomical odds that I can’t even begin to compute, CASINO DRIVE is out of the same mare that produced Jazil and Rags to Riches, the last two Belmont winners). This could be the race where ‘Brown will have to dig down deep and show us what’s inside.

To me, the silliest argument ever is that racing needs a Triple Crown winner to save the sport. What is good for racing is the buildup between the Preakness and Belmont, a three-week timeframe when the sport actually enjoys mainstream sports status. Jockey Kent Desormeaux might be on the Letterman or Leno shows; trainer Richard Dutrow’s guarantees of victory might be compared to Joe Namath in the ’69 Super Bowl. Assuming ‘Brown does win the Triple Crown, where is the windfall to racing when he will retired at the end of the year? Syndicated for a reported $50 million to stand at Three Chimney’s Farm, ‘Brown will run, at most, two more times in his career (that’s being optimistic—horses tend to come up with real or imagined injuries after being syndicated for that kind of money). ‘Brown’s career will be cut short like those of Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Street Sense and Hard Spun, just to name a few. Yes, he’ll draw crowds and media attention at Saratoga and Santa Anita (the Travers and BC Classic would be his final two starts) but then he’ll be whisked away to stud, hopefully to produce more champions (that can then also be retired at the end of their 3-year-old seasons). I understand the commercial market but the whole cycle is illogical and does nothing for the “sport” of horse racing. Try to breed more champions, who can then be retired after short, illustrious careers, sent away to stud to try to produce more short-lived stars. That’s the state of racing in the year 2008.

To change topics, I must say that I like the refreshing candor and outspoken nature of Dutrow. Years ago I stopped going to the position draws and interviews that are customary for the big Southern California races because they were so boring. Trainers sitting there like they were on their way to the gallows, uttering unintelligble one-word answers, or really expounding with the occasional, “My horse is doing good. I expect him to run a big race.” No insight, nothing controversial, just a huge waste of time. Dutrow tells you what he thinks, backs it up at the windows, and has been a breath of fresh air. And one more tip of the cap to Larry Jones, who I wrote about last time. Trainer of the ill-fated Eight Belles, Jones has been the most stand up of men, including his participation in a pair of round table discussions featured on ESPN and NBC during their broadcasts last week.

NOTES: It seems that Scientific Games is in hot water again, this time because its “quick pick” feature malfunctioned and left out the number “20″ on Derby day. That just happened to be Big Brown’s number, right? Isn’t it time for California to start looking for another provider, one that can perhaps incorporate separate Pick Six pools in the case of dead heats or give us consolation Pick 4 payoffs in the event of a scratched horse?…Corey Nakatani fired agent Craig O’Bryan and switched to Ronnie Ebanks, who also handles business for Tyler Baze…Patrick Valenzuela finally made it to Louisiana and has begun working horses there. He supposedly will start riding on May 31, under a license that is valid through the end of June. Wonder if he’ll last that long?

To View Free Samples of Premium Plays from past two weeks, click on the links below: May 10Â Â Â May 11Â Â May 14Â Â May 15Â Â May 16Â Â Â May 17Â Â May 18Â Â May 21Â Â May 22Â Â May 23

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