09/10/2008 11:00PM

Sponsorship gets new twist

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NEW YORK - Almost everything about Big Brown's career has been slightly surreal, from winning his debut on the grass by 11 1/4 lengths, to winning the Kentucky Derby in just his fourth career start, to being eased in the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line. Even so, his eighth and next-to-last career start Saturday could be the strangest chapter yet: Big Brown, primarily owned by IEAH Stables, is running in - no kidding -the $500,000 "Monmouth Stakes Presented by IEAH Stables."

If this event does not ring any bells when it comes to campaigning likely 3-year-old champions and Horse of the Year aspirants, it's because it's a brand-new race made to order for its sponsor, which just so happens to be the owner of the odds-on favorite in a field of 11. Rather than run in either the Travers against the top 3-year-olds or in the Woodward or Jockey Club Gold Cup against Curlin, IEAH asked that someone write a grass race for 3-year-olds precisely six weeks after the Haskell and six weeks before the Breeders' Cup Classic. Monmouth obliged, and IEAH was so grateful that it was announced Wednesday it was now also the race's presenting sponsor.

This arrangement is an unprecedented combination of two different familiar aspects of racing: writing a race for the benefit of a single popular horse, and enlisting a presenting sponsor. There's always a chance that a Darley or Shadwell runner will turn up in the Darley Alcibiades or Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, or in the "Travers Stakes Presented by Shadwell," or that a horse raised at Lane's End Farm will run in the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway. A brand-new Monmouth Stakes, presented by IEAH, breaks new ground in the annals of sponsorship synergy, and amounts to a Big Brown Invitational.

There is, of course, a catch: Once the gates open, Big Brown is on his own, and he has 10 older horses to beat on a surface he hasn't raced on since last September. He looked terrific that day trouncing maidens who have never been heard from again, and the stalk-and-pounce style of his facile classic victories is suited to grass racing. Still, after facing what is widely considered a substandard group of dirt 3-year-olds all year, he will be taking on a salty field of aging but capable turf stakes winners, including Shakis, Silver Tree and Proudinsky. He's no cinch, and I'll be betting against him if he's less than even money.

In one sense he has nothing to lose if he loses. He's the champion 3-year-old of 2008 either way, and it would probably cost him little in the Horse of the Year popularity contest since Curlin lost his only grass start. The difference is that Curlin finished second, sandwiched between two Breeders' Cup Turf winners, in the Man o' War, an established Grade 1 race rather than a hastily conceived event written for the horse whose owners are sponsoring it.

Usually, one of the things you get when you buy a presenting sponsorship is the right to hand out the trophy. Will IEAH make the presentation if it's not Big Brown in the winner's circle?

Void left without Kaufman

Racing lost both a gentleman and and a handicapping innovator last Sunday when Art Kaufman died after a long illness at the age of 73.

Kaufman was a lifelong recreational horseplayer who first attended the races with his father in 1949. An inveterate longshot hunter, he began to develop a system for predicting how horses would handle mud, turf and longer distances the first time they tried it, and compiled by hand the performance of sires and broodmare sires in tens of thousands of races. Under the nom de plume of Lee Tomlinson, he began publishing "Mudders and Turfers" and "Sprinters and Stayers," guides purchased by thousands of handicappers. In 2001, he sold his archives and methodology to Daily Racing Form, where the Tomlinson Ratings have been published since.

Hundreds of Americans also got their first taste of European racing on one of the horseplaying trips abroad he organized over the last decade.

Those with good fortune to have known him will remember him as much for his generosity with his time and expertise, and his good company at the track, as for his handicapping contributions and the racehorses he owned. The only thing he liked better than playing the races was talking about them. Those conversations will be missed.