The monster is not the 1½ miles of the Belmont Stakes — though that grueling "Test of the Champion" has been the undoing of 20 other horses who headed there in search of the elusive third jewel of the crown after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. It is a flesh-and-blood foe who hails from Japan.
"Monster" is how Big Brown jockey Kent Desormeaux described Casino Drive on the eve of the Preakness. A late arrival to the Triple Crown scene via Japan, Casino Drive won the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes on May 10 by 5 3/4 lengths, covering the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.87 and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 101.
It was a huge effort when you consider that Casino Drive, owned by Hidetoshi Yamamoto, was making just the second start of his life and first since Feb. 23. After having to do a 60-day quarantine in Japan, Casino Drive made a trans-Atlantic trip from Japan on April 30. With just one five-furlong work at Belmont, Casino Drive put in a superlative effort in the Peter Pan.
The blood coursing through Casino Drive’s veins might be even more important than his talent. The son of Mineshaft is out of the mare Better Than Honour, who gave birth to the last two Belmont Stakes winners — the filly Rags to Riches and Jazil.
That could give Casino Drive a key edge at the Belmont’s rarely-run distance of 1½ miles.
Desormeaux is uniquely qualified to assess the matchup. He has ridden Big Brown in all but one of his races, and he also piloted Casino Drive to victory in the Peter Pan.
The subject came up in the post-race interview again after Big Brown’s breathtakingly easy 5¼-length victory in the Preakness, and Desormeaux again declined to answer.
But Rick Dutrow Jr., Big Brown’s trainer, took up the monster theme and ran with it, predicting that Big Brown will take care of his rival, who was bred in Kentucky and purchased for $950,000 at the Keeneland 2006 yearling sale by Japanese business mogul Hidetoshi Yamamoto.
Casino Drive is not the only horse standing in the Brown’s path to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Three horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby — Denis of Cork, Tale of Ekati and Anak Nakal, who finished third, fourth and seventh, respectively — are expected to return to try and turn the tables on their nemesis.
Tomcito, who finished a well-beaten third behind Big Brown in the Florida Derby before being trounced by Casino Drive in the Peter Pan Stakes, is listed as a possible entrant. None of the trainers of the Preakness also-rans indicated immediately after the race that they were itching to take on Big Brown again in the Belmont.
Kentucky Derby champion Animal Kingdom was unable to go out a winner, fading quickly in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday in his last race before retirement.
Ramon Dominguez, a three-time Eclipse Award winner as the leading jockey in North America, retired on Thursday due to a head injury suffered in a fall earlier this year.
Big Brown takes Preakness by a landslide
May 17: With an impressive late acceleration, Big Brown won the Preakness with ease.
Triple Crown winners
The horses that have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in the same year.
Derby Day finery
Fashion statements fill Churchill Downs as race fans display their hats.