05/18/2008 11:00PM

Big Brown attracting a crowd

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Alysse Jacobs
Big Brown's bid for the Triple Crown could shatter Belmont Park's attendance record.

With a victory on Saturday in the Preakness Stakes to go along with a similar runaway two weeks earlier in the Kentucky Derby, Big Brown now stands just one race away from becoming racing's 12th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Affirmed in 1978. Monday, he left Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and, a little more than four hours later, arrived at Belmont Park in New York, where on June 7 he will attempt to add the 140th Belmont Stakes to his resume, and thus complete the Triple Crown.

As of Monday, two horses out of the Preakness - Macho Again and Icabad Crane - and three from the Derby - Denis of Cork, Tale of Ekati, and Anak Nakal - were scheduled to face Big Brown in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, along with Casino Drive, Tomcito, and possibly Behindatthebar, Ready's Echo, and Spark Candle.

Big Brown is unbeaten in five starts, with his lone race in New York state coming in his debut last summer at Saratoga. He has never raced at Belmont - just 20 miles east of Manhattan - and that is one reason why he was sent there Monday, even though his trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr., is based eight miles away at Aqueduct.

"He's going to race there," Dutrow said. "It cuts down on shipping. Those are two of the biggest reasons, but the first is the biggest. He doesn't need to train at Aqueduct when the race is at Belmont. The more things you can take out of the equation, the better."

Big Brown is housed at Belmont in the barn of trainer Bobby Frankel, who is close friends with Dutrow. Dutrow's top assistant and exercise rider, Michelle Nevin, will remain at Belmont with Big Brown.

"Michelle will stay with him," Dutrow said. "And I'll be there whenever he's out of his stall."

Dutrow joked that he worried his friendship with Frankel might be strained by the inevitable crush of media that will follow Big Brown. When Smarty Jones went for the Triple Crown four years ago, a Belmont Park record crowd of 120,139 was announced as the attendance. This year's Belmont could be an even bigger event.

Big Brown has captured the attention of racing fans, who have not seen a horse win the Triple Crown in 30 years. And, in a perverse way, racing itself was high in the public consciousness following the Derby because of both Big Brown's dominating victory and, perhaps more so, the tragic death of the filly Eight Belles. Big Brown might have been overshadowed following the Derby, but he had the spotlight in the Preakness, and he came through with a bravura performance on a day that went off flawlessly at Pimlico.

"This was a good day for racing," Larry Jones, who trained Eight Belles, said Saturday night in the Pimlico stable area. "Everything went off without a hitch. And it looks like we have a superstar."

In addition, interest in this Belmont extends far beyond the United States. In Japan, where racing is a far more popular sport than here, the Belmont is garnering a tremendous amount of attention because of Casino Drive, who won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 10 following a debut victory in Japan in February. His dam, Better Than Honour, produced the last two Belmont winners, Jazil and the filly Rags to Riches. A large contingent of Japanese media, and fans, are expected for this Belmont.

Big Brown got a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 in the Preakness, a race that finished exactly as Dutrow and jockey Kent Desormeaux had hoped. They wanted to win, but did not want Big Brown to have a hard, taxing race. Once Big Brown roared past his rivals at the top of the stretch, Desormeaux geared him down, not once having to resort to the whip. He beat runner-up Macho Again by 5 1/4 lengths.

"Kent rode a brilliant race," Dutrow said. "I reminded him, 'We've got to run again in three weeks.' When Kent let him go, he opened up six lengths in five strides."

Sunday morning at Pimlico, Dutrow said Big Brown was "bouncing around the shed row."

"His legs are good and tight," he said. "He ate everything."

"I'm sitting in a good spot right now," Dutrow said. "Every time he's run he's just amazed everyone. My biggest worry this time was just that he break with the field. I didn't want him to get out of there bad. He's never been down inside, with horses to his outside and horses in front of him, but he handled it.

"Anybody can see he's not one-dimensional now. He's got everything you want. I haven't even seen him sweat. The weather's been perfect. He hasn't had to race or train in hot weather. That's kept him fresh. It's like he's not from this world. He's unbelievable."

Big Brown has certainly scared off a number of potential challengers, and left even those who will try him again quite sober about their chances.

"I don't like to be second, but it's not bad to be second to this horse," said jockey Julien Leparoux, who rode Macho Again.

"He's the real deal," said trainer Graham Motion, whose Icabad Crane finished third in the Preakness.

"There's no question he's a tremendous horse," said trainer Nick Zito, whose Stevil was fifth in the Preakness.

"I guess we know that Big Brown is the real deal now," said trainer Reade Baker, whose Kentucky Bear finished sixth after a brutal trip.

"That is one hell of a racehorse," said trainer Rich Schosberg, whose Giant Moon finished eighth.

"It looks like Big Brown might win the Belmont farther than Secretariat," said Paddy Gallagher, the trainer of Yankee Bravo, who finished 10th.

Secretariat won the 1973 Belmont by 31 lengths, ending a 25-year Triple Crown drought, at the time the longest span between Triple Crown winners.

"Big Brown's a monster," said Bill Mott, whose Riley Tucker finished 12th and last in the Preakness.

Albarado replaces Borel on Denis of Cork

Denis of Cork, owned by William Warren, worked five furlongs in 1:01 on Monday at Churchill Downs. In the Belmont, he will be ridden by Robby Albarado, replacing Calvin Borel, who rode Denis of Cork to a third-place finish in the Derby.

"I have no issue with Calvin - he has two wins on him and a third in the Kentucky Derby," said David Carroll, who trains Denis of Cork. "Mr. Warren felt like Robby Albarado's success at Belmont Park and winning nine Grade 1s there is the way he wanted to go. He wants to give [Denis of Cork] every opportunity and was very adamant that if Robby was available, then that was the way he wanted to go."

Casino Drive was ridden by Desormeaux in the Peter Pan, so he will need a new jockey for the Belmont. Japanese superstar Yutaka Take rode Casino Drive in his lone start in Japan, and owner Hidetoshi Yamamoto spoke to him Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse about the possibility of riding in the Belmont, according to the Japan Racing Association. But Take was unable to give him a positive answer as he may be contracted to ride the day after the Belmont in the Yasuda Kinen, a Grade 1 mile worth $1.6omillion at Tokyo.

Nobutaka Tada, the representative for Yamamoto, said he was leaning toward an American-based rider.

"A mile and a half, you need to understand the pace," Tada said. "American jockeys have an advantage here."

Top riders yet to commit to a Belmont mount include Garrett Gomez, Edgar Prado, and John Velazquez.

- additional reporting by David Grening, Byron King, and Alan Shuback