08/03/2008 11:00PM

Big Brown gets it done in Haskell

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Big Brown takes the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on Sunday under Kent Desormeaux.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - It lacked the brilliance that Big Brown displayed in all but one of his previous six races. But his victory in Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational showed a side of Big Brown that even his connections didn't know the colt had.

Seemingly defeated in upper stretch, Big Brown responded to 12 cracks of Kent Desormeaux’s right-handed whip to run down 20-1 pacesetter Coal Play and win the Haskell by 1 3/4 lengths before a boisterous crowd of 45,132 at sun-splashed Monmouth Park. Coal Play, under Joe Bravo, finished second by 4 1/4 lengths over stablemate Cool Coal Man, both owned by Robert LaPenta and trained by Nick Zito. It was 2 1/2 lengths back to Alaazo, who was followed in the order of finish by Nistle’s Crunch, Atoned, and Magical Forest.

The victory enabled Big Brown to somewhat erase the memories of being pulled up in the Belmont Stakes at 1-5 and to restore some luster to his tarnished reputation. Still, there will be some criticism of Big Brown because he did not dominate this race like he had in winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Florida Derby.

That mattered little to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., whose reputation also got a boost by Big Brown’s victory.

"He ran a big race," Dutrow said in the winner’s circle. "They ran a mile and an eighth in [1:48.31], he ran down a lone speed, was chasing the whole way. . . . Big Brown, I’m as happy as I can be with him. It was his first race after pulling up in a race, so how can I not be as thrilled as I am? He could have pulled up again. He showed that he’s a true racehorse; he got done what he had to do. I’m very proud of him."

Said owner Michael Iavarone: "I saw a dimension in Big Brown today that I didn’t know existed. He showed more than just his ability, he showed his heart, and that, to me, is a sign of a great racehorse."

The plan in the Haskell was for Big Brown to make the lead. While Big Brown did break on top, he was soon overtaken by Coal Play, who ran an opening quarter in 23.05 seconds to get the lead. Desormeaux took a hold of Big Brown to get him outside of Coal Play but found Atoned, under Edgar Prado, to his outside. Before Atoned could pin Big Brown down, Big Brown spurted away from Atoned around the clubhouse turn.

Turning into the backside, Desormeaux had Big Brown outside of Coal Play and moving comfortably as he continued to stalk from second through a half-mile in 46.59 seconds and six furlongs in 1:10.85. Approaching the quarter pole, Coal Play appeared to spurt away from Big Brown, opening up 2 1/2 lengths, and Desormeaux started urging his horse. At first, Big Brown was not gaining on Coal Play, and for a moment it appeared as if the race would be similar to the Belmont Stakes, where the Zito-trained, LaPenta-owned Da’ Tara went gate to wire.

"I thought we were beat turning for home," Dutrow said.

But unlike the Belmont, Big Brown had something left to give. With Desormeaux resorting to his whip, and despite drifting out in the lane, Big Brown ran down Coal Play with about 70 yards remaining to get the victory, his sixth from seven career starts. Big Brown ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.31 and returned $2.40 as the 1-2 favorite.

"He showed a new gear when he switched leads at the three-sixteenths; at the eighth pole he took off again," Desormeaux said. "It’s almost like he took a deep breath and kept going for more. That courage I had never seen in him. I didn’t know he had it, because he always annihilated the competition. Today he showed me he’s a warrior. He’s got some courage."

While Coal Play ran the race of his life, it was still disappointing to Bravo that he got beat.

"It just sucks - it’s a heartbreaker," Bravo said. "You do everything completely right and you got to have the best horse come and beat you."

Though the ultimate goal for Big Brown is the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, where Big Brown will run before then remains undecided. Dutrow said if it was up to him, the $1 million Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 23 wouldn’t be Big Brown’s next start.

"I wouldn’t do it, because it looked like he put in one hell of a race today," Dutrow said. "To run him back so quickly, it might not be in his best interests."