06/11/2008 11:00PM

'Balcony' wrong place to be in Belmont

Email

ELMONT, N.Y. - Big Sandy 1, Big Brown 0.

The most telling quote leading up to Big Brown's Belmont Stakes flame-out was offered by his exercise rider, Michelle Nevin, after the colt's five-furlong workout the preceding Tuesday.

"He was trying to get away from me early," she said.

On race day, Big Brown, his training curtailed by a quarter crack, was also trying to get away from Kent Desormeaux early.

Things went from bad to worse when Big Brown was taken out to the 7 path into the backstretch. Normally, racing wide on Big Sandy is not an insurmountable tactical disadvantage, as it is at most other tracks. In fact, it is often the preferred footing. Prior to the arrival of current track superintendent John Passero, horses won routinely with the "Belmont balcony move."

But the main track strongly favored horses with inside speed last Saturday, and that - along with Nick Zito's well-documented history of eliciting improvement from horses in the Belmont - played a major part in Da' Tara's front-running score.

Review the day's other dirt races:

Race 1 (N1X allowance sprint) - Desert Key, Accredit, and Basha's Moon were 1-2-3 at the first call and finished that way.

Race 2 (maiden sprint) - Sixthirteen, Tiz It, and Golden Weekend ran 1-2-3 through fractions of 21.96 and 44.80 seconds and finished that way.

Race 4 (N2X allowance mile) - The footnote for winner Forefathers: ". . . well rated (by Desormeaux) in a good spot inside, scooted along a clear path along the rail approaching the head of the stretch . . ."

Race 5 (New York-bred sprint) - A total pace meltdown among Hawkwood, Too Tough Pete, and Revealer paved the way for Endless Circle (outside) and Dr. W (inside) to rally from mid-pack.

Race 6 (True North) - Benny the Bull, the best sprinter in training, needed the length of the stretch to overtake Man of Danger, who has been second in four straight stakes (none previously higher than Grade 3), and last won when eligible to be claimed for $75,000.

Race 8 (Acorn) - Zaftig overtook juvenile filly champ Indian Blessing, and it was a country mile back to Game Face and Golden Doc A.

Race 9 (Woody Stephens) - J Be K wired the field as the choice, no surprise. But the horse he dueled with through a 44.89 half, True Quality, held gamely on the rail and was nosed for second at 24-1.

Race 13 (New York-bred sprint) - Megapixel wire to wire on the rail; Law Enforcement chased outside through the final three-eighths of a mile.

Big Brown owner Michael Iavarone's post-race quote (". . . the track might have been too deep for him, and he didn't like it out there.") sounded like a grasp at straws initially - especially considering that winning times included Desert Sea's 1:08.80 for six furlongs, and miles in 1:34.48 by Forefathers and 1:34.50 by Zaftig.

On the other hand, horses racing outside were at a disadvantage, and Big Brown was lost at sea in the middle of Big Sandy for a long, long time.

Crown schedule may need change

Maybe it's finally time to revamp the Triple Crown schedule to better reflect the realities of today's more fragile Thoroughbreds.

All the major Kentucky Derby preps that used to be two or three weeks out have been pushed back to four, five, and six weeks.

Unless a horse wins the Derby or just totally doesn't fire, there is no incentive to run back in two weeks (Gayego was the only Derby horse back for another crack at Big Brown in the Preakness this year). Most trainers view it as far more prudent to simply freshen up and await the Belmont.

Aside from being obsolete, the "tradition" of spacing between the races is greatly overblown. Prior to Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed, the first eight Triple Crown winners had the following schedules:

Sir Barton: Derby May 10, Preakness May 14, Withers May 24, and Belmont June 11.

Gallant Fox: Preakness May 9, Derby May 17, and Belmont June 7.

Omaha: Derby May 4, Preakness May 11, Withers (2nd) May 25, and Belmont June 8.

War Admiral: Derby May 8, Preakness May 15, and Belmont June 5.

Whirlaway: Derby May 3, Preakness May 10, allowance May 20, and Belmont June 7.

Count Fleet: Derby May 1, Preakness May 8, Withers May 22, and Belmont June 5.

Assault: Derby May 4, Preakness May 11, and Belmont June 1.

Citation: Derby May 1, Preakness May 15, Jersey May 29, and Belmont June 12.

A nod to tradition might keep the Derby the first Saturday in May. Beyond that, what would be so terrible about pushing the Preakness back an additional two or three weeks, and concluding the whole shebang with the Belmont on July 4?