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Keeping an eye on the foot
ELMONT, N.Y. - Big Brown, who has the most examined foot since Carrie Bradshaw first put on a pair of Manolo Blahniks, will not have an acrylic patch put on his injured quarter crack until Friday, the day before he is to go for the Triple Crown in the 140th Belmont Stakes, both trainer Rick Dutrow and Ian McKinlay, the foot specialist who has been treating Big Brown, said Monday at Belmont Park.
The immediate upshot was twofold. Both Dutrow and McKinlay insisted that this development was positive, that Big Brown, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, was healing well on his own and did not need earlier intervention. But it also meant that Big Brown was to have his final workout for the Belmont on Tuesday morning without having the crack patched beforehand, a change from the itinerary first laid out last week by Dutrow and McKinlay.
Dutrow basically has been deferring all care of the injured left front foot to McKinlay. The only time Dutrow overruled McKinlay was on whether to put the patch on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. McKinlay wanted to wait until the morning of the Belmont, but Dutrow thought that was cutting it too fine and preferred Friday.
But as for waiting until later in the week to apply the patch, McKinlay said, "We're dealing with something designed to heal itself.
"Some call it nature. I call it God."
McKinlay added: "There's a slight, slight, slight chance that something's in there. I don't think there is. There's no seepage at all. But when you apply the methacrylic patch, a lot of heat is generated. You could get something 72 hours later."
McKinlay said the remote chance of developing a problem on Friday if a patch was applied Tuesday was not worth risking.
"If I owned the horse, I'd treat him the same way," McKinlay said.
"The longer you wait, the better for him," Dutrow said.
Both Dutrow and McKinlay said working without the patch was not an issue.
"I'm as confident as can be working without the patch," Dutrow said. "I like the idea of what we're doing. When Ian gets involved, I've never seen things go the other way."
Big Brown, who is seeking to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, and first in 30 years, looked strong during his routine gallop at Belmont Park on Monday morning. He came on the track shortly before 9 a.m., then stood calmly near the finish line for 10 minutes with exercise rider Michelle Nevin aboard. He then jogged to the clubhouse turn, where he began to pick up the pace and galloped 1 1/4 miles, with Nevin doubled over clutching the reins to keep Big Brown from doing too much.
"He's ready to do something," Dutrow said. "It's time."
Big Brown wore rubber bell boots to protect his front hooves, as he has done since before the Derby. With the exception of the inside of his left front foot, he looked in exceptional condition, as though his victories in the Derby and Preakness took little out of him.
Asked if he still believed the Belmont was "a foregone conclusion," as he opined last week, Dutrow answered with an emphatic, "Yes."
Eight others are likely to try and say no. On Monday, it appeared a field of nine would be entered Wednesday morning in the Belmont, at 1 1/2 miles the longest of the Triple Crown races. Posts will be determined Wednesday morning in a traditional double-blind draw.
In addition to Big Brown, who will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux, the Belmont field is expected to include Anak Nakal (Julien Leparoux the rider), Casino Drive (Edgar Prado), Da' Tara (Alan Garcia), Denis of Cork (Robby Albarado), Icabad Crane (Jeremy Rose), Macho Again (Garrett Gomez), Ready's Echo (John Velazquez), and Tale of Ekati (Eibar Coa).
Longshots Spark Candle and Tomcito were removed from Belmont consideration by their connections Sunday. Spark Candle, a stablemate of Casino Drive, was entered in Friday's Grade 3, $100,000 Hill Prince Stakes at one mile on turf at Belmont Park. Tomcito had some congestion Sunday morning, according to his trainer, Dante Zanelli Jr.
Velazquez moved to Ready's Echo after being released Monday from a commitment he had made earlier to ride Anak Nakal. Velazquez and his agent, former riding great Angel Cordero Jr., agreed to ride Anak Nakal before knowing Ready's Echo would run. Ready's Echo is trained by Todd Pletcher, for whom Velazquez rides first call. Cordero asked Nick Zito, the trainer of Anak Nakal, if he could get off the colt. Zito and Anak Nakal's owner, Kassem Masri, acquiesced.
"Mr. Masri and I believe in good karma," Zito said Monday.
Zito got Leparoux to ride Anak Nakal. Leparoux has ridden Anak Nakal twice, including to a victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall at Churchill Downs.
Zito also announced that Garcia would be on Da' Tara.
Anak Nakal, seventh last time out in the Derby, completed his serious preparation for the Belmont with a half-mile workout in 49.67 seconds on the Saratoga training track Monday morning. Both he and Da' Tara are scheduled to be sent by van from Saratoga to Belmont Park on Wednesday, Zito said.
At Churchill Downs on Monday, Denis of Cork worked a half-mile in 48.60 seconds for trainer David Carroll.
With Albarado up, Denis of Cork galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.60 in what Carroll had planned as a maintenance work. Denis of Cork had breezed five furlongs on the two previous Mondays at Churchill.
The latest work, said Carroll, was "just something nice to stretch his legs."
"I was very, very happy with what I saw today," Carroll said. "Robby was very careful not to go too fast early. It was just a beautiful thing to watch. We're excited."
In his last start, Denis of Cork closed strongly to finish third in the Derby. Denis of Cork figures to be the third wagering choice in the Belmont behind a pair of unbeatens, Big Brown and Casino Drive.
Both Denis of Cork and Macho Again, second last time out in the Preakness, are scheduled to fly to New York from Kentucky on Wednesday.
Icabad Crane, third in the Preakness in his last start, worked a half-mile in 48.60 seconds Monday at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland for trainer Graham Motion.
On Sunday, Tale of Ekati, fourth last time out in the Derby, worked six furlongs in 1:11.99 over a muddy Belmont main track for trainer Barclay Tagg.
Ready's Echo, working in company with The Roundhouse, went five furlongs in 1:01.90 over a fast Belmont training track Sunday.
The weather was clear and comfortable here Monday morning, then warmed up to 80 degrees in the afternoon. The forecast for midweek was for unsettled weather, according to Weather.com. There is a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms on Wednesday, and a 30 percent chance of isolated showers on Thursday and Friday. There is no rain in the forecast for Saturday, when the high temperature is predicted to reach 79 degrees.
- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee