03/30/2008 12:03PM

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.