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Crown winner pulling for Big Brown
ELMONT, N.Y. - Three jockeys who rode a Triple Crown winner are still living: Ron Turcotte (Secretariat, 1973), Jean Cruguet (Seattle Slew, 1977), and Steve Cauthen (Affirmed, 1978).
But Billy Turner is the only surviving trainer of a Triple Crown winner, having been the conditioner of Seattle Slew when the colt became the first and only horse to sweep the series while still unbeaten.
"I remember the summer after Affirmed won, and they had a luncheon for us at the Racing Museum at Saratoga," recalled Turner, who is still active as a trainer at Belmont. Besides Turner, the other Triple Crown-winning trainers attending were Jimmy Jones, who collaborated with his father, Ben Jones, as the trainer of Citation; Lucien Laurin, Secretariat; and Laz Barrera, Affirmed.
"None of us could get a word in edge-wise because Jimmy had all kinds of stories," Turner said with a laugh. "I guess some of them were even true."
Turner, now 68, is rooting for Big Brown.
"I look at it this way: Now's the time," he said. "If we don't have a Triple Crown winner pretty soon, they're going to want to change the dates, change this, change that. Once you start changing things, it's an entirely different situation."
Turner said he has been watching Big Brown train in recent days, including a Tuesday workout at Belmont.
"I was concerned about his quarter crack," he said. "I thought it might have a big effect, but it looks like he's handling it very well. I just hope he runs his race Saturday."
Hayward hoping for record business
Charlie Hayward is hoping Big Brown will deliver record business for the New York Racing Association on Saturday.
Hayward, NYRA's president and chief executive officer, isn't sure that Saturday's Belmont Stakes will draw record attendance, but he certainly believes there could be record handle on the 13-race card.
Hayward was not yet at NYRA in June 2004 when an announced record crowd of 120,139 watched Birdstone upend Smarty Jones's Triple Crown bid. Hayward did say, however, that "there are varying reports on the accuracy of 120,000, so it's hard to use that as a benchmark." The second-biggest Belmont crowd was 103,222 when Sarava upset War Emblem. Last year's crowd was a paltry 46,870, the lowest in 12 years.
Attendance could be hampered by a couple of factors. Beginning in 2005, NYRA banned fans from bringing alcohol onto the premises. Also, in recent years, general admission has gone from $2 to $10, while clubhouse admission has gone from $5 to $20.
The reported ontrack handle in 2004 was a record $14,461,402, while the all-sources handle was also a record $114,887,594. Hayward would love to see those numbers fall.
"We think we got a huge shot to break the ontrack figure," Hayward said.
Hayward noted that before scratches there are 138 betting interests on Saturday's card. In 2004, there were 123 betting interests. For the second straight year, all the non-stakes races received a $10,000 purse increase.
"We think that pays for itself in handle opportunities, getting one or two horses more in those races," Hayward said.
In an effort to alleviate traffic flow problems, Hayward said fans can park at Aqueduct and catch a free shuttle bus to Belmont. Also, following the races, there will be 70 buses taking fans from Belmont to the Jamaica train station, a major hub for subways and the Long Island Rail Road.
Reynolds expects Big Brown victory
Pat Reynolds will mostly blend in with the crowd Saturday when rooting for Big Brown to complete a sweep of the Triple Crown. But Reynolds has a unique perspective of the race, having trained Big Brown through his eye-popping career debut last September at Saratoga.
"Once I saw how good he really was, I knew he was going to be sold," Reynolds said this week at his Belmont Park barn. "It was just a matter of to who and for how much."
Big Brown was sold to IEAH Stables and turned over to Rick Dutrow by owner Paul Pompa Jr. after his 11-length victory Sept. 3. Pompa retained a 25 percent interest in the colt, while selling the balance for a reported $2.5 million.
Reynolds said that as the Big Brown story has unfolded, "the initial shock has dissipated. I'm fine with everything because Mr. Pompa took care of me. He gave me 10 percent that not every trainer gets from every owner. He's a good owner, a good man. He was raised properly. I've still got 15 horses for him here.
"He invited me to watch the race with him Saturday. I think the horse will just open up on them. I can't see him losing unless his foot becomes an issue. He's just a standout. He's a superstar in what so far has been a pretty ordinary group."
Triple Crown trainer switches
Dutrow is the third trainer in the last 30 years to be on the Triple Crown threshold after taking over for the original trainer.
In 1980, P. O'Donnell Lee won the Remsen Stakes with a 2-year-old named Pleasant Colony. Owned by the Buckland Farm of the late Thomas Evans, Pleasant Colony remained with Lee into March of his 3-year-old season, after which Evans ordered the colt sent to the late John Campo, trainer of Buckland's first string. Pleasant Colony went on to sweep the Wood Memorial, Derby, and Preakness, then was third in the Belmont.
"Mr. Evans was a little tight with his money, you might say, but I'm very confident my dad made sure that everyone got taken care of," said John Campo Jr., an active trainer at Belmont. "The farm manager, the guy who broke him. I'm sure P. O'Donnell Lee was part of that, too."
In April 2002, War Emblem was sold by Russell Reineman to the Thoroughbred Corp. and was transferred from the care of Frank Springer, who had trained the colt to win the Illinois Derby, to Bob Baffert. For Baffert, War Emblem won the Derby and Preakness before finishing eighth in the Belmont.
Over the last three decades, there have been at least several other instances of private sales that resulted in trainer switches for the eventual winners of Triple Crown events. Thunder Gulch, the 1995 Derby and Belmont winner, went from John Kimmel to D. Wayne Lukas. Lil E. Tee, the 1992 Derby winner, went from Mike Trivigno to Lynn Whiting. And the 1998 Belmont winner, Victory Gallop, went from Mary Eppler to Elliott Walden.
Dutrow assistant recalls father's win
Walter Blum Jr., who worked alongside Big Brown for much of the winter and spring as an exercise rider and assistant for Dutrow, has a close tie to Belmont history: His father, Walter Blum, recorded one of the greatest victories of his Hall of Fame riding career when Pass Catcher upset Canonero II in the 1971 Belmont.
Despite Blum dropping his whip passing the eighth pole, Pass Catcher, a 34-1 shot, held off Jim French to win the Belmont as Canonero II, the Derby and Preakness winner from Venezuela, struggled home fourth as the 7-10 favorite. The attendance of 82,694, many of them from Venezuela, set a record that since has been broken.
"I've got this great photo of my dad blowing his stick and reaching out to get it back," said Blum, 26, who recently was dispatched to Saratoga to assist with Dutrow's sizable string there. "He's told me all kinds of stories about that race, how all the Venezuelan people were there and how he really liked Pass Catcher going in. They got lucky because Canonero's foot was hurt. Matter of fact, it's kind of a scary coincidence about Big Brown having recently suffered a quarter crack."
The elder Blum, 73, led all North American jockeys in wins in 1963 and 1964. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987. He retired in December 2004 after a lengthy post-riding career as an official and steward on the Florida racing circuit.
Both Blums will be in attendance Saturday.
Triple Crown trophy seeks home
Many racing fans might not know it, but there is such a thing as a Triple Crown trophy. Commissioned by the Thoroughbred Racing Association, the trophy was designed and created by the famed Cartier Jewelry Co. of New York in 1950.
A trophy was awarded retroactively to the owners of the first eight Triple Crown winners, and three more were awarded when Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed swept the series. But since 1979, the most recently crafted trophy has never found a permanent home, unless you count the Kentucky Derby Museum, where it is on public display.
on Saturday, the trophy will be Saturday in the Belmont winner's circle . . . just in case.
* A memorial service for Cinda Hough, the wife of trainer Stan Hough, will be held Monday at 5 p.m. at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, 420 Stewart Ave., Garden City, N.Y. 11530.
* Belmont Park will be closed Sunday, the day after the Belmont. Racing resumes Wednesday.
- additional reporting by David Grening