05/29/2008 11:00PM

Big Brown's list of foes keeps growing

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Although all reports from the Big Brown camp on Friday were encouraging regarding his progress from a quarter crack in his left front foot, the list of horses that will challenge the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner in the 140th Belmont Stakes next Saturday continued to grow.

Trainer Nick Zito, who spoiled the last Triple Crown bid in 2004 when his Birdstone upset Smarty Jones, already had Anak Nakal pointed for the $1 million Belmont, and on Friday said he was giving serious consideration to running Da' Tara as well.

And Ready's Echo, trained by Todd Pletcher - who won last year's Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches - was confirmed for the race by Kevin Scatuorchio, a managing partner of the Let's Go Stable which owns Ready's Echo.

The addition of Da' Tara and Ready's Echo brings to nine the number of 3-year-olds who, as of Friday, will try to prevent Big Brown from becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner and the first since Affirmed in 1978. Besides Anak Nakal, others expected to challenge Big Brown at Belmont Park are Casino Drive, Denis of Cork, Icabad Crane, Tale of Ekati, Tomcito, and Macho Again, who worked a half-mile in 48.20 seconds on Friday at Churchill Downs.

Zito said Da' Tara, who was second in the Barbaro Stakes on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico on May 17, "had a tremendous work" on Thursday at Saratoga. Da' Tara, who earned a 92 Beyer in the Barbaro, worked on the Oklahoma training track, and went a half-mile in 49.67 seconds, the third-best of eight at the distance.

"His Barbaro was good," Zito said. "We might run."

Da' Tara did not compete in either of the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Anak Nakal was seventh in the Derby, then skipped the Preakness to point for the Belmont, the same timetable Zito used with Birdstone. Zito sees other parallels between 2004 and 2008, including going up against an overwhelming favorite.

"Birdstone was eighth in the Derby, not 18th. This horse was seventh, not 17th," Zito said. "Both had good 2-year-old years. Birdstone won the Champagne, this horse won the Kentucky Jockey Club. I feel the way I do going up against Big Brown that I did against Smarty Jones. I think we've got a good outside shot. In my heart, with Birdstone, I thought he had an outside shot. I knew he had credentials."

The victory by Birdstone was a thrill for Zito, but left most of the record crowd at Belmont Park that day stunned. Immediately after the race, Zito walked up to John Servis, who trained Smarty Jones, and said, "I'm sorry."

"What are you sorry about?" the classy Servis said. "You did a great job."

"I'm hoping I'm lucky enough to say the same thing to Ricky," Zito said, referring to Richard Dutrow Jr., the trainer of Big Brown

"Look, it doesn't look like anybody can beat Big Brown," Zito said. "But it didn't look like anybody could beat Smarty Jones either."

Zito said he would officially announce his riders for Anak Nakal and Da' Tara "in a couple of days," but all indications were that John Velazquez would be aboard Anak Nakal.

Velazquez rode Ready's Echo to a third-place finish in the Peter Pan Stakes on May 10, but his agent, Angel Cordero Jr., on Friday said Velazquez would not ride Ready's Echo because Cordero had made a previous commitment to ride for Zito in the Belmont.

Ready's Echo had also been under consideration for the $600,000 Colonial Turf Cup on June 21 in Virginia.

"Basically our feeling was for him to run relatively well in the Belmont and hit the board - we'd be happier with that than running a good second or possibly even winning down at Colonial," Scatuorchio said. "The prestige of the Belmont compared to that race - you can't compare the two."

Ready's Echo "can always fall back on the turf," Scatuorchio said.

In other Belmont developments:

* Dutrow was raving Friday morning over the way Big Brown looked following a 1 1/8-mile gallop at Belmont Park.

"He just looks unbelievable," Dutrow said as Big Brown got a bath, accentuating the dapples on his torso. "I can't even believe that I'm training a horse that looks this good and has done what he's done. There's no way in the world that there's any horse that could be doing any better than Big Brown. That's impossible. He is just shining, so proud of himself. Everything you want to see in a racehorse, just look at Big Brown and you'll see it."

Dutrow believes that Big Brown looks better now than he did going into the Derby and that he "definitely" has put on weight since then.

Dutrow said that hoof specialist Ian McKinlay did not look at Big Brown's quarter crack on Friday, and that progress continues to be made in the healing process. Dutrow still plans to work Big Brown on Monday or Tuesday.

* Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown's jockey, will throw out the first pitch on Sunday night at the nationally televised baseball game at Shea Stadium between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

* Macho Again's work at Churchill Downs was the 11th fastest of 55 at the distance. Macho Again was second to Big Brown in the Preakness. Both he and Denis of Cork, who was third in the Derby, are scheduled to fly to New York from Kentucky on Tuesday.

additional reporting by David Grening