05/28/2008 12:00AM

Big Brown no lock, Beyers say


PHILADELPHIA - Assuming Big Brown makes it to the starting gate for the Belmont Stakes, the colt will have one significant issue beyond the hoof problems and the difficulty of making it all the way through the Triple Crown in top form. This will be the colt's fourth Grade 1 race and the first in which he does not have dominant Beyer Speed Figures.

In the Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness, Big Brown laid over the field. Getting 3-2 in Florida and 2-1 in Kentucky looked like real bargains in the stretch.

Getting 1-5 in the Preakness was not unexpected, given the Beyer disparity. The closest last-out Beyer to Big Brown was 10 points. The race played out just as the figures suggested it would.

In fact, last-out Beyers ran one-two in the Preakness when Macho Again (99) closed late to be second to Big Brown (109). That the public went for Gayego as the second choice and let Macho Again go off at 39-1 was a bonus. So was the $36.60 exacta for the true Beyer believers.

By the way, did anybody note the difference in place and exacta prices? Macho Again paid $17.20 to place. Why would you bet that when the exacta paid twice as much and the race was so obviously going to Big Brown?

The Belmont is not nearly so obvious. For the first time in a Grade 1, Big Brown will not enter the gate with a significant Beyer edge in general or with the best last-out Beyer in particular.

Big Brown's Derby Beyer was right on par. The sheet guys are saying it was the greatest Derby ever from a numbers standpoint, apparently because of the ground loss. Our numbers do not suggest that at all.

Big Brown got a 100 Beyer in the Preakness, far off par. In fact, it was the lowest Preakness Beyer in 15 years.

We all saw how easy the Preakness was, that Kent Desormeaux once again rode like he could not lose, that the jockey almost toyed with the field until the top of the stretch when he asked Big Brown to run for maybe 150 yards before easing off the throttle.

Would the colt have run faster if Desormeaux asked? Possibly. But the numbers are the numbers. If you believe, you believe.

Casino Drive got a 101 Beyer in the Peter Pan and will enter the gate at the Belmont with the slightest of last-out Beyer edges.

This Triple Crown really has not been terribly complicated. The fastest horses are getting most of the money. Thinking too much has been a waste of time and counter-productive.

I thought Big Brown had an 80 percent chance of winning the Derby and bet it that way. I thought the Derby winner had a 100 percent chance of winning the Preakness and bet one exacta ticket - best last-out Beyer over second-best last-out Beyer.

Big Brown is going to be 1-5 or 2-5 in the Belmont. I still think he is the most likely winner, but he is not the near lock he was in Kentucky or the absolute lock he was in Baltimore.

The Beyer Figures say this race is close. I am not sure Big Brown's trainer, Rick Dutrow, is going to be able to run to the winner's circle at the quarter pole. I agreed with Dutrow in Louisville and Baltimore when he said Big Brown could not lose. And I loved that he said it.

Casino Drive is the best horse Big Brown has faced. Obviously, it is also true the other way. Check out the video of Casino Drive's first race in Japan. The colt showed very good speed and kept going. In the Peter Pan, Casino Drive ran like a very experienced horse, dealing with several situations like a horse racing for the 12th time, not the second.

Having praised Casino Drive, the reality is that Big Brown is lengths better than anything Casino Drive has faced. Only a truly special horse can win from the 12 post in the Florida Derby, the 20 post in the Kentucky Derby, and win the Preakness in a blowout with not a little bit of disdain.

Still, that 100 Beyer in the Preakness is troubling. What also concerns me is how many smart people in the business are saying the horse can't lose the Belmont. The last time I heard this much unanimity was on Arazi in the 1992 Derby.

The Beyers going into that Derby strongly suggested Arazi was anything but a lock. Perception, however, became reality, and Arazi was bet like a lock, odds-on, and ran eighth.

Big Brown was very real to me going into the Derby and Preakness. Now, there is a perception that the colt is unbeatable when the Beyer reality says that is not the case.

You can root on perception. Betting, however, is about reality.