09/13/2008 5:01PM

Brown on the Green


I bet against him at 3-5, but there isn't much to knock about Big Brown's narrow but solid victory over legitimate older stakes horses on the turf today in the Monmouth Stakes. While the race probably won't get as good a winning figure as his Haskell, he looked like a stronger and fitter horse today, and while his margin of victory was smaller he was beating better horses -- and older ones for the first time.

Big Brown somewhat surprisingly sprinted clear early in what looked like a speed-packed field on paper, as only Get Serious was close to him early. Desormeaux settled him down nicely midrace, and he had fresh leghs turning for home as Get Serious made a brief bid and the closers started their late bids. Proudisnky made the strongest move while Shakis flattened out after going very wide, and Proudinsky was at Big Brown's neck in the final furlong, but couldn't get past him. The winner's fractions were 23.46, 46.83 1:11.21, 1:35.39 nd 1:47.41, meaning he ran splits of 23.46, 23.37, 24.38, 24.18 and 12.01.

The outcome probably won't settle any debates over just how good Big Brown is or how he stacks up against Curlin, even if you confine the latter discussion to turf. Curlin finished second in his only grass start but was sandwiched between two Breeders' Cup Turf winners in Red Rocks and Better Talk Now, either of whom would have been favored over Proudinsky today. The Monmouth Stakes field was a combined 0 for 15 in Grade 1 races. Still, the tally remains Big Brown 2-for-2 on grass in his career, Curlin 0-for-1. A victory over three nice Grade 2 horses (Proudinsky, Shakis, Silver Tree) adds to Big Brown's resume, but like Curlin, he would be considered a 20-1 no-hoper in a race like the Arc de Triomphe against the world's best grass horses.

Big Brown won the equivalent of a G2 grass race by a neck. Curlin lost a legit G1 by a length. While it's nice for their breeding careers that they're proficient on grass, their places in history rest on their dirt performances.

Twenty minutes later at Belmont, an uncompetitive five-filly G1 Gazelle became a virtual walkover for Music Note when Country Star reared and bucked at the gate and was a late scratch as the 4-1 second choice. That lowered Music Note's odds from 2-5 to 1-20 as she faced only two N1x winners and a maiden-claiming graduate. The scratch also forced refunds of the trifecta pool and the show pool, where bridgejumpers had poured in about $700k on Music Note

After the field was backed out and reloaded, Music Note sat third behind mild fractions, cruised to the lead at will, and won by 8 1/2 lengths under a hold in 1:50.20. "One could say this was a very good effort," Tom Durkin announced as she romped home under a motionless Castellano, "if it was any effort at all."

Earlier at Belmont:

*The G2 Futurity was run in bunched-up fashion, with 7-5 Charitable Man prevailing by a length over 19-1 Flying Pegasus in a moderate 1:24.30 for six furlongs. The winner, now 2-for-2, didn't look as impressive as he did earning a Beyer 96 winning his Saratoga debut by 11 1/2 lengths, but unlike some of the division's other early leaders, figures to stretch out nicely, being a son of Lemon Drop Kid and a Saint Ballado mare. Charitable Man got a nice outside trip, moving five-wide on the turn and gradually wearing down the leaders.

Flying Pegasus, who went well winning the pace battle and holding second, was the only starter in the field to have won two races or to have run in anything but a maiden race, having won a Delaware allowance race Aug. 9 after scoring in his debut at Churchill. Of the other favorites, promising debut winner Girolamo had no apparent excuse (nor did Romp, second to him in their debuts and a bad fourth in a maiden race earlier on the card) but I'd give another chance to Gone Astray, who was stuck at the rail and blocked under an indecisive ride.

*One race later, Doremifasollatido ($8.80) won the G2 Matron in 1:24.74, about 2 1/2 lengths slower than the Futurity, by two diminishing lengths over late-running Persistently. The winner, a New York-bred daughter of Bernstein(Storm Cat), was second beaten 7 lengths by Mani Bhavan in the Adirondack Aug. 13. Today she stalked the leaders from the rail, sliced between them under Coa in upper stretch, and pulled clear while Persistently closed in after trailing by 9 early as Durkin sang the winner's name once she was safely clear.

*Criminologist ($4.40), the lone graded stakes winner (and a three-time G3 winner) in the G3 Noble Damsel for turf fillies, got up in the final jump to run down Waquoit's Love in 1:37.91 in the day's only grass race. She seemed to be laboring around the turn with a lot left to do, but showed her superiority grinding out the victory and could be headed for the G1 First Lady at Keeneland Oct. 11.