03/30/2008 1:03PM

Big and Bigger


We saw two dominant and defining performances half a world apart Saturday, with Curlin's 7 3/4-length romp in the $6 million Dubai World Cup and Big Brown's five-length Florida Derby triumph. Curlin's performance increased his career earnings to $8.8 million, leaving him less than $1.2 million shy of Cigar's alltime earnings mark and on the doorstep of the Hall of Fame. Big Brown's front-running score earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 106, by far the best in a two-turn Kentucky Derby prep this year, and now he'll try to do what even Curlin couldn't accomplish last year: win the Kentucky Derby in just his fourth career start.

Curlin received no real competition from a rich international field that, as usual in the World Cup, was simply not in the same league on the dirt as a real American champion. That may all change in a couple of years when the race is run on a synthetic surface at the new Meydan City the Maktoums are building. Between that and the likelihood that the next two Breeders' Cup Classics will be run on synthetic tracks, we may not see many more similar expressions of superiority in the world's richest main-track races, but for now it was a pleasure to see a superb horse put on such a display.

Big Brown took control of the Florida Derby from the start and ran the field off its feet. He beat Hutcheson winner Smooth Air by five lengths despite running greenly through the stretch, and it was another 7 1/2 lengths back to the Peruvian classic winner Tomcito. Elysium Fields, the Fountain of Youth runner-up and Big Brown's main rival on paper, was bounced around early but didn't run a lick thereafter and ended up 11th.

The Florida Derby, run in 1:48.16, was one of three nine-furlong routes on the card. Half an hour earlier She's All Eltish won the G2 Bonnie Miss for 3-year-old fillies in 1:51.80, but a final-time comparison is tricky because the pace of the Bonnie Miss was so slow -- six furlongs in 1:12.79 as opposed to Big Brown's 1:10.08. Perhps more relevant is that two races after the Florida Derby, the stakes-winning 5-year-old Electrify blew out the field in the $75k Forever Whirl Stakes by 8 3/4 lengths in 1:47.85, though he expended less energy early than Big Brown did. Electrify stalked from 3 1/2 lengths behind a pace of 1:10.16.

It was a spectacular day for trainer Rick Dutrow, who stayed stateside for Big Brown's race while assistants saddled Diamond Stripes and Benny the Bull to victories in the $1 million Godolphin Mile and the $2 million Golden Shaheen on the World Cup undercard. It was Big Brown's outworking Diamond Stripes at Gulfstream that made Dutrow so confident in his 3-year-old and kept him home.

Big as Big Brown was stepping up to win a Grade 1 in his third career start, the next step is even bigger. He'll be facing at least a dozen better horses in Kentucky than lined up against him at Gulfstream, he'll be stretching out to 10 furlongs, and what if he has to tangle early with War Pass? That colt returns Saturday in the Wood at Aqueduct. If he rebounds from his Tampa Bay fiasco, the question of this Derby will be whether either he or Big Brown can possibly survive an early battle in Louisville or whether they'll be gasping late after setting the table for a closer such as Pyro.

--I watched the World Cup card about as far away as you can get, physically and spiritually, from the Royal Enclosure at Dubai: at Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H., 30 miles north of Boston, where I was doing a seminar with a lively group of New England simulcast players.

There hasn't been a live Thoroughbred race at The Rock since 2004 or a Thoroughbred meet since 2002. There's now a harness meet from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but the Thoroughbred simulcasts are far more popular than the live harness racing. Both management and customers would love to see the runners return someday, but unless Massachusetts and New Hampshire get slots, there's barely enough money or horses to sustain area racing at Suffolk Downs alone. Ever hopeful, Rockingham officials continue to maintain their turf course, once home to races such as the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, just in case.

ace More than 1 year ago
i think curlin is a true superstar who will end up in the hall of fame,I look for big brown to regress in the derby and finish off the board.
Flip Dawson More than 1 year ago
I'm in a hurry today Wed., but if GIANT MOON gets into Derby with his low earnings, he is a good play for 2-3-4 in superfecta. His only loss was on a sloppy track to Visionaire. The rest of his races, he has won.
Clinton More than 1 year ago
Giant Moon's trainer has already said he'll scratch should the track come up wet and unfortunately the forecast for this wekend at the Big A is for rain beginning Friday. His last was such a non effort I'd find it hard to believe he'd expose the horse to similar again. But if you're looking for a NY Bred underneath Big Truck may offer better value.
jim More than 1 year ago
boys, inner is over and Keeneland opens friday...yippee!
Smash More than 1 year ago
In the past few years, who have been the big Beyer horses coming into the Derby? Obviously, there's Bellamy Road & Sinister Minister, and I think that War Emblem had the biggest number in 2002.
Mike More than 1 year ago
Big Brown didn't do anything that Curlin didn't do. He has 3 starts also before the Derby and ran triple digit speed figures also. Big Brown is far too green to win Derby. Curlin lost the Derby by almost 8. It was not even close. War Pass is still the best horse out there.
david More than 1 year ago
given the sucess of benny the bull, diamond stripes, and curlin, why do they run on lasix in the u.s.? maybe instead of synthetic tracks to improve the health of the equine athlete, how about withdrawing lasix.it seems to me the brittleness of the modern horses directly corresponds to the widespread introduction of lasix
John More than 1 year ago
Like David_S, I would think that the WP system should be looked into here in America. Doesn't it seem that there might be less overhead on some of our computer systems right around post-time, if there was one less betting pool to deal with? Thus perhaps eliminating those annoying odds changes while the race is being run? And while I'm on the subject, I have heard that the odds changing is related to "batch" processing of wagers. I worked with batch production in the 80's, and we found that they processed faster with "like" components. By that I mean, within a batch maybe you have just win bets being processed, as opposed to win, place, show, ex. etc. all in the same batch.
AndyScoggin More than 1 year ago
I think the references to The references to Curlin and drugs do not refer to racetime medications, but to steroids given in the past, over the winter, to make him bigger and stronger! Steroids are just as big a problem in racing as in baseball. Yearlings are given steroids to get them ready? for the sales ring!
Bryan More than 1 year ago
Hi Steve, 2 questions for your Q&A, both related to Muscle pulls. 1. Do you find it kind of odd that a lot of the injuries on the TC trail so far have happened to the California crew that have been training on the artificial surfaces out there. Just an interesting observation. 2. On the subject of muscle pulls, does anyone else beside Todd Pletcher diagnose gluteal muscle pulls in his horses?? It just seems to me a lot of his horses seem to go on the sideline because of that specific muscle injury. Just weird to me, as you pretty much never hear it afflicting other horses.