09/13/2008 12:00AM

Big Brown tenacious on turf

Bill Denver/Equiphotos
In his final race before the Breeders' Cup Classic, Big Brown digs deep for a neck victory in Saturday's $500,000 Monmouth Stakes on the grass.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - When Big Brown ran down longshot Coal Play to win the Grade 1 Haskell here in August, many thought it was a sign that the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was tailing off after a long campaign.

Big Brown again got into a dogfight in Saturday's Monmouth Stakes, but the reviews should be more positive after the 3-year-old colt fended off three very talented and accomplished older horses to win the $500,000 turf race.

Showing the speed he had displayed earlier in his career, Big Brown led virtually every step of the way under Kent Desormeaux, then turned back the 5-year-old Proudinsky through the stretch to win by a neck before an appreciative Monmouth Park crowd of 17,047.

Proudinsky, who had gotten within a neck of Big Brown at the sixteenth pole, held second by a half-length over the 8-year-old Shakis. It was three-quarters of a length back to the 8-year-old Silver Tree in fourth. The trio behind Big Brown had combined to win 25 races and earn $2.9 million.

"I thought he put on a huge effort, man," an elated trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said. "Those horses looked like they had him turning for home, and he just wouldn't let them get by. It's something we haven't seen with him before."

The victory now sets Big Brown up for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic over the synthetic surface at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

"In my mind, it sets him up very good," Dutrow said. "He looks like he put out a gut-wrenching performance, but we've got the 40 days, and that's what you need for them to get over a race and train up to the next one."

Dutrow wanted Big Brown on the lead, and with Desormeaux urging him away from the gate, Big Brown got it, running an opening quarter of 23.46 seconds with Get Serious attempting to press from the outside. While Big Brown cornered well, Get Serious went wide. That enabled Big Brown to run uncontested through a half-mile in 46.83 seconds and three-quarters in 1:11.21.

In the stretch, Proudinsky, under Ramon Dominguez, was charging at Big Brown, but Big Brown would not let him get by despite never being hit by Desormeaux. Big Brown covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.41 and returned $3.20. The turf course was labeled good, though Desormeaux said it was closer to firm.

"To hold off a horse that Bobby Frankel said had not been coming up to a race any better and that's run the quality of races that he's run underlines what we're talking about here," said winning owner Michael Iavarone of IEAH Stable. "They could have run around again and it would have been the same result."

* Flirtatious Smile ($25.80) led every step of the way under Felix Ortiz to win the $60,000 New Jersey Breeders' Cup Handicap by one length.

* Hadavision ($16.40) rallied along the rail under Jose Lezcano to run down pacesetting Browning to win the $60,000 Trenton Stakes - a five-furlong race that was moved to the dirt - by three-quarters of a length.