06/03/2008 11:00PM

Triple Crown quest starts on rail

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Barbara D. Livingston
Casino Drive aborted a scheduled workout Wednesday morning due to sloppy track conditions at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Perhaps the draw on Wednesday for the 140th Belmont Stakes on Saturday could be looked at as a metaphor for the story arc of Big Brown over the past five weeks.

Big Brown's trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr., and his ownership group were looked at as outsiders before the Kentucky Derby, in which Big Brown ended up in the far outside post, No. 20. Now that Big Brown has won the Derby and added the Preakness Stakes to stand on the doorstep of a Triple Crown, Dutrow and company have become the ultimate insiders, the focal point of everything having to do with racing.

So on Wednesday morning, the randomness of the draw had an apropos outcome when Big Brown drew the inside post for the $1 million Belmont. He will have nine rivals lined up outside him, resulting in a field of 10 - one more than expected - for the last and longest leg of the Triple Crown.

Dutrow brazenly took the outside post in the Derby, and then Big Brown drew right in the middle of the field for the Preakness. Dutrow said before the draw that he preferred an outside post for the Belmont, which encompasses one lap of Belmont Park's 1 1/2-mile main track, but said afterward he believed the inside post would not matter.

"I just can't see the post getting him beat," Dutrow said. "If he breaks good out of the 1 hole, it will be to our advantage. And if he doesn't, he has plenty of time to get out of there. There's no way a post position is going to get Big Brown beat."

"Obviously I'm going to have to jockey for position," said jockey Kent Desormeaux, who rides Big Brown. "But I'm well-mounted."

Big Brown, unbeaten in five starts, was installed as the 2-5 favorite on the morning lines set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, and Eric Donovan, the linemaker at Belmont Park. Both Donovan and Watchmaker have Casino Drive, the Peter Pan Stakes winner, the second choice at 7-2, with Denis of Cork, the third-place finisher in the Derby, next at 12-1.

Everyone else is 20-1 or higher, including the surprise late entrant Guadalcanal, who is winless in five starts. Guadalcanal most recently was second, beaten a nose, in a 1 1/2-mile turf race for maidens at Churchill Downs on May 23. He drew next to Big Brown in post 2.

The field, from the rail out, is Big Brown (Desormeaux the rider), Guadalcanal (Javier Castellano), Macho Again (Garrett Gomez), Denis of Cork (Robby Albarado), Casino Drive (Edgar Prado), Da' Tara (Alan Garcia), Tale of Ekati (Eibar Coa), Anak Nakal (Julien Leparoux), Ready's Echo (John Velazquez), and Icabad Crane (Jeremy Rose).

Tale of Ekati, who won the Wood Memorial in April, is the only horse besides Big Brown with a victory in a Grade 1 stakes race.

All 10 3-year-olds carry 126 pounds. Trainer Nick Zito has two runners in the race, Anak Nakal and Da' Tara, but they race as separate betting interests.

First prize in the Belmont is $600,000, with $200,000 to second.

"Obviously, it's a tough task at hand," said David Carroll, who trains Denis of Cork. "But we're here to win, and we're going to give it our best shot."

The Belmont is the 11th race on a 13-race card that begins at noon Eastern. Post time for the Belmont is scheduled for 6:25 p.m. It will be shown live on ABC from 5-7 p.m. The Belmont is the final leg of pick-four and pick-six wagers that both have pools guaranteed at $1 million.

Big Brown had a quiet day at Belmont Park. He worked Tuesday, so, as is his custom, he merely walked the barn's shed row the next day, in both the morning and the afternoon. Big Brown's sharpness Wednesday morning pleased Dutrow.

"He was very rough this morning, which we really liked," Dutrow said. "He is ready to run, looking for action."

The quarter crack on the inside of Big Brown's left front foot is scheduled to have patch put on it Friday afternoon, Dutrow said. Ian McKinlay, the foot specialist who has been treating Big Brown, came by Wednesday morning to check again on Big Brown. Dutrow said the foot was fine and that Big Brown was going back to the track to jog as scheduled on Thursday.

The Belmont main track was rated as sloppy for training on a gray, misty morning Wednesday. Casino Drive originally was scheduled to have his final work for the Belmont on Wednesday, but he had another unorthodox training session that did not include a workout.

After walking the stable area for an hour, Casino Drive came on the track with stablemates Champagne Squall and Spark Candle after the renovation break, at 8:50 a.m. He then proceeded to gallop slowly to the backstretch, at which point he turned around and jogged back, exiting through the tunnel to the paddock.

Nobutaka Tada, who has overseen the training of Casino Drive as the racing manager for owner Hidetoshi Yamamoto, said Casino Drive did not do more "because of the condition of the track."

"The track was bad," Tada said. "We will try" Thursday.

Kazuo Fujisawa, the Japanese trainer of Casino Drive, arrived Tuesday night and watched Casino Drive train Wednesday.

"Mr. Fujisawa said after seeing the horse that he does not need a fast work," Tada said.

Casino Drive has appeared uncomfortable when he gallops the past three days, even after walking briskly before coming on the track. Tada said Casino Drive "has always been that way."

Race-day medication, such as the diuretic Lasix, is not legal in Japan, where Casino Drive made his first start, but it is legal here. Tada said Casino Drive would not use any medication in the Belmont.

The rain Wednesday morning yielded a comfortable high temperature of 72 degrees Wednesday afternoon, but Weather.com forecast much steamier conditions by the weekend. The high temperature on Friday is predicted to be 81 degrees, with an 85-degree high on Saturday. There is a 30 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms both days.