09/17/2008 12:00AM

Big Brown game but a bit too slow


PHILADELPHIA - After you follow a horse as closely as we have all followed Big Brown this year, you start to get reasonably confident about what you know. This is a colt with talent, toughness, and consistency. If you can forget the absurdity of the Belmont result, Big Brown has been perfect. Only Peppers Pride wins like that.

In the colt's six wins this year, Big Brown has hit triple digits on the Beyer scale every time. That is serious business.

I thought his prep race last Saturday in the Monmouth Stakes was perfect in every way. Loved the smooth stride on the backstretch. Loved the competitiveness in the stretch against a B-list group of grass horses. Love the fact that Rick Dutrow gets six weeks to get the colt ready for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Without getting into what the new artificial surface at Santa Anita means or does not mean (I don't know and neither does anybody else), I feel very confident in saying Big Brown will run as well as he possibly can in the Classic.

However, after crunching the numbers for a few days, I have to wonder if that will be good enough. Big Brown's three best dirt Beyers are 109 (Kentucky Derby) and a pair of 106s (Florida Derby and Haskell). Has Big Brown hit a Beyer ceiling?

The evidence would suggest he has. And if that evidence holds up, Big Brown likely won't be fast enough to win the Classic. The winner almost has to get into the 110-120 Beyer range, a place Curlin has been for some time.

Maybe, Big Brown is just one of those horses that gets to the wire first. The Monmouth Stakes showed a dimension we did not know the colt had.

As someone who has been a Big Brown fan from that allowance win in March, I will not be surprised if the colt wins the Classic. But, unless I can find a way to believe Big Brown has a Beyer jump in him, I am not sure I am going to be able to bet on him.

By the way, Curlin really needs to show up for the Classic.

"I think we're way ahead of him,'' Dutrow said of Curlin. "If they want Horse of the Year, it's forcing them to show up. Even if we run in the Breeders' Cup and finish second, third, or fourth and Curlin just doesn't go, they still have to respect what we've done all year.''

The voters will have to sift through all that. If Curlin runs, voting will be simple.

However Big Brown's season ends, I am not sure people appreciate just what this colt has done in so short a period of time. I don't know that Dutrow has ever really been able to train the colt like he would want to. Still, Big Brown runs big every time in very significant races.

Dutrow says he thinks Big Brown is better on grass than dirt. Certainly, the colt's feet react better to grass.

Think about this. How many serious (or non-serious) horses are as good on turf as they are on dirt?

Secretariat was great on grass, winning the Man o' War by five and the Canadian International by 6 1/2 in his final two starts. John Henry was a turf horse, but won the Santa Anita Handicap twice (once by DQ).

More recently, two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Da Hoss was a really good dirt horse. In seven fast-track races, Da Hoss had four wins and three seconds.

Da Hoss got Beyers of 114 and 113 in his Mile wins. He got a 108 Beyer when second in the slop in the Pegasus, 105 when second in the Illinois Derby, and a 98 when second in the Swaps to Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch.

I see a little Da Hoss in Big Brown. For instance, could you imagine Big Brown as a turf miler? Got to think that might be the best game for a horse with sprinter's speed, the acceleration to pass at will, and the will to win every race.

But we won't see what Big Brown might have done had he raced through his 6-year-old season as Da Hoss did. The Classic will be it for Big Brown, his ninth and final race.

Nine races is a career anymore for star 3-year-olds. Big Brown will have packed eight of them in from March 5 to Oct. 25. That's eight races in 230 days, a brutal schedule by today's standards at the top-class levels of the sport.

That Big Brown has come through the other side as good as he started is a testament to the colt's ability. That Big Brown will need to find a new Beyer level in that last start is a testament to the Classic, a race that was designed to test the best and reward only those that could deliver a championship-level performance when all the money was on the line.