05/27/2008 11:00PM

Big Brown fit in first gallop since injury

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Barbara D. Livingston
Big Brown, with exercise rider Michelle Nevin up, Wednesday at Belmont.

ELMONT, N.Y. - If Big Brown's training session Wednesday morning was any indication, the quarter crack he suffered to his left front foot last week may turn out to be much ado about nothing.

Looking every bit as fit and focused as he was prior to his blowout victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Big Brown galloped a solid 1 1/8 miles over Belmont Park's main track on a bright, breezy morning on Long Island. It was his most strenuous exercise since being diagnosed with a quarter crack last Friday that forced him to miss three days of training. He returned to the track Tuesday for a jog.

Despite the missed training time, Big Brown appears right on schedule for the June 7 Belmont Stakes, where he will attempt to become Thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.

Accompanied by a stable pony and with regular exercise rider Michelle Nevin in the saddle, Big Brown went to the track at 9:10 a.m. After walking alongside the pony, Big Brown broke into a gallop at the mile pole. He galloped an opening eighth in 17.69 seconds and galloped in roughly 17-second furlongs throughout. He had his ears up and was well out in the center of the track. Nevin pulled him up an eighth of a mile past the finish line.

"When we went out on the track, he was bouncing a little bit; I didn't want him to be too strong or try and do too much, but he was very good," Nevin said. "The first furlong he was a little rough, then he just settled right down, slowly relaxed, and let go of the bit."

Nevin said Big Brown feels the same to her now as he has throughout the Triple Crown series.

"He hasn't lost a pound," Nevin said. "He doesn't look like a horse that had two big races back to back; he's eaten everything. He doesn't seem like a horse that just ran."

Ian McKinlay, the hoof lameness specialist who has cared for Big Brown's quarter crack, looked at Big Brown's foot briefly early Wednesday morning, but did not do any work on it. McKinlay said the injury is healing well on its own and he's happy with the progress. He said an abscess around the hairline drained, creating a small hole where he can put in a solution of iodine and alcohol to help dry the area up. McKinlay likened the situation to having a blister and wanting to let the skin dry up before removing it.

McKinlay, who on Monday put in stainless steel sutures to help draw the crack together, said that by Friday he expects to put an acrylic patch over the quarter crack.

"As far as patching, we'll come back Friday, " he said. "Hopefully that skin will dry out and come off on its own. We're trying to stay out of the way and let nature take its course."

Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. declined to meet with reporters Wednesday, saying he wanted to let McKinlay speak for him.

Casino Drive works slowly; Prado to ride

Casino Drive, the horse many expect to be Big Brown's biggest hurdle in the Belmont, had an unusual training session Wednesday morning. Scheduled for a five-furlong breeze in company with Spark Candle, Casino Drive went that distance by himself in a pedestrian 1:12.52 under Japanese jockey Yoshi Aoki. Because the time was so slow, Casino Drive was not credited with an official time.

Nobutaka Tada, racing manager for owner Hidetoshi Yamamoto, said Aoki told him the horse was acting "excited" while walking with his stablemates in the barn area. Tada felt that Casino Drive would have gone too fast if he had worked in company. After discussing the situation by phone with trainer Kazuo Fujisawa, who was in Japan, the decision was made to have a slower work.

"We talked with the trainer after walking and we decided not to go too fast," Tada said. "If he followed the horse, he would have gone too fast. So he worked by himself, which means he's really good. He doesn't need to go fast."

After walking in between stablemates Spark Candle and Champagne Squall down the backside, Casino Drive left that pair at the 5 1/2-furlong pole and broke off at the five-furlong marker. After basically galloping an opening eighth in 17.32 seconds, Casino Drive went his next two quarters in 27.63 and 27.57.

The best part of the move was the last part. From the finish line to the 1 1/4-mile pole, Casino Drive went a quarter-mile in 25.41 seconds, and he continued galloping out around the clubhouse turn to the mile pole.

"The time was slower than you guys expected, but he continued to the backstretch," Tada said. "We didn't stop him - we let him run."

Tada said Casino Drive may have one or two more works similar to this one Sunday and/or Wednesday.

Prior to the Peter Pan, Casino Drive worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds, starting off eight lengths behind two stablemates. Tada said Casino Drive needed a fast work then, because he had not run in 11 weeks.

Wednesday afternoon, Tada confirmed that Edgar Prado would ride Casino Drive in the Belmont. Yutaka Take rode Casino Drive in a maiden race, and Kent Desormeaux rode him in the Peter Pan.

Desormeaux, who rode for Casino Drive's owner, Yamamoto, in Japan, is the regular rider of Big Brown. Tada said that even if Big Brown were not to make the Belmont, Prado would still ride.

Tada said the decision to ride Prado was made because of his Belmont Stakes experience. Prado has won the race twice, both times upending Triple Crown bids. In 2002, Prado rode 70-1 shot Sarava to victory, knocking off War Emblem. In 2004, Prado was aboard 36-1 shot Birdstone, who upset previously unbeaten Smarty Jones.

"We feel this horse is now for the American people, and we wanted to do what was best for the horse and pick the best jockey in New York who knows the Belmont Stakes, who knows the pace," Tada said. "We know he's a good jockey with patience."

Tomcito works; Garcia gets mount

At about the same time that Casino Drive was working, Tomcito put in a more traditional workout, going seven furlongs in 1:29.95. Alan Garcia was up for the work and will be Tomcito's rider in the Belmont.

It was Tomcito's first work since he finished seventh in the Peter Pan. It was also his first move since he underwent a throat procedure known as a myectomy to correct a breathing problem following the Peter Pan.

Belmont clockers caught Tomcito in fractions of 26.80 seconds, 52.00, and he galloped out one mile in 1:45.08.

"He was fine, he did what we expected him to do - go seven-eighths and stretch out, get Garcia to see how he liked him and get adjusted to him," said trainer Dante Zanelli Jr. "He was happy with the breeze. We didn't want to do anything fast, we just hoped he finished well."

Zanelli said that his uncle, Juan Suarez, is the perennial leading trainer in Peru and helped get Garcia's career started in that country. Suarez is the former trainer of Tomcito, but now serves as the racing manager for owner Esteban Ripamonti and Omar Mahchi.