05/30/2008 12:00AM

Big Booster true long-distance runner


PHOENIX - With the inaugural running of the 1 1/2-mile Breeders' Cup Marathon to take place later this year at Santa Anita, interest has been renewed in the stayer. Many a track has adjusted its stakes schedule to reflect this, adding races for the long-distance runners. Sunday's $100,000 Gallant Man, a 1 5/8-mile marathon at Hollywood Park, is an example, giving long-winded runners a chance to show their stuff.

Big Booster, trained by Mike Mitchell, is without doubt an out-and-out stayer. The 7-year-old has displayed quality since Mitchell claimed him for $62,500 at Gulfstream Park over 15 months ago. He has raced with some of the big boys, and handled himself well. Still, the combination of the highest level of competition, and distances that are probably a bit short of his best, kept him on the fringes in stakes company - until recently.

After Big Booster finished 10th in the Gradeo1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 1, Mitchell opted for longer and lesser. He dropped Big Booster into the Grade 3 Tokyo City Handicap at Santa Anita on March 29. Not only was Big Booster getting a shot at 1 1/2 miles, he also was getting away from the best in the West, and it nearly paid off. He chased the pace and finished third, beaten less than a length by winner Niagara Causeway, who was able to dawdle early.

The Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano, run on the turf at Santa Anita on April 20, may have turned the tide for Big Booster. Ridden by Rafael Bejarano for the first time, he sat well off another modest pace. But instead of being pushed along and moved out of his comfort zone, he was allowed to settle - and he blasted home to win in a romp. The distance, company, and a ride that allowed him to use his strength - a strong late gallop - got Big Booster the win.

On Sunday in the Gallant Man, Big Booster moves to Hollywood Park's Cushion Track surface and 1 5/8 miles. The distance obviously suits, but how about the surface? Well, his only other victory for Mitchell came in an optional claimer over this track a year ago.

The pace Sunday also should not be a problem for Big Booster. Victorian Prince set the pace in the San Juan Capistrano, and he returns in the Gallant Man. Besides, the pace shouldn't matter to Big Booster if Bejarano uses the same strategy - which is to let him gallop along, gather himself as he goes, and just keep running, while the others start to tire.

Big Brown's legacy? Stop already.

You don't watch a movie and decide halfway through if it's great or not. So why does it seem that everyone is in a big hurry to determine whether Big Brown is great?

Everyone needs to relax, take some deep breaths, let things play out. There's no rush, we'll know in the end. There's also an historical context that needs to be taken into account.

Not all our Triple Crown winners were great horses. The achievement was great, but they weren't all world-beaters.

Sir Barton was a maiden going into the Kentucky Derby, and he ended up losing more races (18) than he won (13). Gallant Fox was just 2 of 7 as a 2-year-old, and he retired after his 3-year-old season in 1930.

Omaha was also nondescript at age 2, winning 1 of 9 starts - and he had only two allowance wins prior to his Triple Crown sweep.

Whirlaway beat just three rivals in the Belmont. Count Fleet, great as he was, beat just three in the Preakness and two in the Belmont. He retired after the Belmont with an injury.

Assault won just 2 of 9 starts at age 2. Citation may well have been the greatest horse who ever ran. But he beat only five in the Derby, three in the Preakness, and seven in the Belmont. That doesn't add up to a full gate for the Derby nowadays.

Secretariat only had to beat five in the Preakness and four in his tour de force in the Belmont. Secretariat did not race past his 3-year-old season of 1973.

All I'm saying is, let Big Brown win his Triple Crown, if it is to happen, and then we can decide his legacy, based not only on the feat itself, but also as compared to what his predecessors accomplished.