05/23/2008 12:00AM

Casino Drive can derail Big Brown express


NEW YORK - While everyone from Hollywood Park to Suffolk to Calder to Emerald Downs and back again has been falling all over themselves in search of bigger and better superlatives to describe what Big Brown has done in becoming the seventh horse in the last 12 years to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, the achievement of his biggest threat in the Belmont Stakes, Casino Drive, has been largely overlooked.

In fact, while Big Brown is merely the latest in a long line of dual American classic winners, in taking the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on May 10, Casino Drive accomplished something unprecedented in the history of racing.

A son of Mineshaft, he had sat idle throughout his juvenile season because of a couple of minor setbacks, but trainer Kazuo Fujisawa and owner Hidetoshi Yamamoto knew they had something special on their hands. After cruising to an 11 1/2-length victory over fellow first-time starters going 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Kyoto on Feb. 23, Casino Drive was immediately aimed at the Belmont Stakes, despite a number of obstacles that plan implied.

First, he would have to be quarantined for 60 days before departing for New York. This thanks to the overly cautious policy of the Japan Racing Association in reaction to last year's outbreak of equine viral arteritis in that country. The threat is very likely a thing of the past, but the racing association is still taking no chances, thus Casino Drive was forced to miss a second start in Japan, one that surely would have moved him forward before his run in the Peter Pan.

Then there was the 7,000-mile, 15-hour journey Casino Drive had to endure just days before that race. Finally, he would be meeting horses more seasoned than himself on their home ground off a single maiden score and an 11-week layoff. With all of that on his plate, Casino Drive drew off to win by 5 3/4 lengths.

No horse has ever won a Grade 2 race off a maiden win under such a set of circumstances, yet in the media hoopla that followed Big Brown's Preakness victory, Casino Drive is being somewhat disparaged. He will improve for his Peter Pan run around Belmont Park, especially as he has had a race on the course, something the so-called hometown hero has not. Most importantly, he is a half-brother to the last two Belmont Stakes winners, Rags to Riches and Jazil, a strong indication that he will stay 1 1/2 miles.

Big Brown, on the other hand, is a half-brother to Snake River Canyon, the winner of a 1 1/8-mile maiden claimer who finished 10th in his lone try at 1 1/2 miles in a Keeneland turf allowance on April 19. There is a strong suspicion that Big Brown's eight-to-nine-furlong pedigree will work against him on Belmont Day.

Big Brown's trainer, Rick Dutrow, got a big laugh after the Preakness when he quipped that "the Japanese thought Godzilla was dead. He's not, he's Big Brown." Sorry, Rick, but you've only got it half-right. Godzilla does, indeed, live. But remember, Godzilla was a Japanese monster. And now there is a Japanese monster in New York preparing to breath fire on Big Brown's Triple Crown parade in the Belmont Stakes.

Different values across the ocean

The retirement from stud of Sadler's Wells and Storm Cat on consecutive days last week sheds light on the different ways stallion value is measured in Europe and America.

Sadler's Wells, who stood for a private fee at Coolmore Stud in Ireland, earned his reputation primarily through the performance of his progeny on the racecourse, a record that is unsurpassed, even by that other great son of Northern Dancer, Nijinsky. Coolmore Stud manager Christy Grassick called him, "The best sire Europe has ever seen." To date, Sadler's Wells has sired 71 Group 1 winners, among them In the Wings, Opera House, Intrepidity, Carnegie, Moonshell, Barathea, Islington, Yeats and High Chaparral, as well as the two leading young sires in Europe, Montjeu and Galileo.

The first stallion in history to sire 200 stakes winners (he totals 260 such winners to date), he has been champion Anglo-Irish sire 14 times and has sired more Breeders' Cup winners - six - than any other stallion.

While Storm Cat has sired four Breeders' Cup winners himself and a large number of very good racehorses - the best of them Giant's Causeway, Tabasco Cat, and Sharp Cat - the $500,000 stud fee he carried between 2002 and 2007 was generated largely by the $702,378 average his yearlings brought in the sales ring. Compared with Sadler's Wells 71 Group 1 winners, Storm Cat's 31 Group 1 or Grade 1 winners looks puny.

The desire for a quick profit in American racing and breeding always dictated Storm Cat's popularity in a country that values the price delivered by a consignor more highly than the possibility of developing a champion racehorse, a classic winner, a champion sire, or a sire of sires.