09/13/2008 12:00AM

Who's afraid of Big Brown?

Barbara D. Livingston
For Big Brown, Saturday's Monmouth Stakes will be his first race on turf since his 11 1/4-length debut victory last summer.

As eager as Big Brown's connections are to run him on the turf in Saturday's $500,000 Monmouth Stakes, several of his opponents are just as eager to face him in the 1 1/8-mile turf race at Monmouth Park.

Though Big Brown figures to be a strong favorite in the Monmouth Stakes, there are several well-seasoned and well-intended rivals among his 10 challengers. While Big Brown is using this as a stepping-stone to the more lucrative $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic next month, this could be viewed as a Breeders' Cup of sorts for the likes of Shakis and Proudinsky, who are graded stakes winners at 1 1/8 miles on turf. There are no Breeders' Cup races run on turf at 1 1/8 miles.

"On turf, we're happy to take him on and feel like we have a big chance," said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Shakis, winner of the Bernard Baruch last out.

"I'm really looking forward to running in this race Saturday," said Bobby Frankel, trainer of Proudinsky, whose chances improve if the turf is less than firm.

The Monmouth Stakes will go as race 9 on a 10-race card that begins at 12:50 p.m. Post time for the Monmouth is 4:52 p.m.

As the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Haskell winner, Big Brown will command all the attention entering the Monmouth Stakes. Big Brown is returning to the turf for the first time since he won his debut on that surface by 11 1/4 lengths at Saratoga last September. It was off that race that Michael Iavarone's International Equine Acquisitions Holdings Stable purchased majority interest in the colt from Paul Pompa Jr. He was transferred to Richard Dutrow Jr.

Big Brown has not raced on turf since, though his connections insist that he prefers that surface to dirt. The primary reason Big Brown is in this race is because the Breeders' Cup Classic is being run over Santa Anita's synthetic surface on Oct. 25 and his connections feel this race will help him make the transition from dirt to synthetic.

"This grass race is really more about a prep for a synthetic run," Iavarone said earlier this week. "The good ones that have run well on the synthetic have really run well on the grass.

"We made it very clear that this race is a prep race," Iavarone added. "We're not looking for his best race here, we're looking for his best race in October. . . . We could run second in this race like Curlin did [in the Man o' War] and be happy knowing we're going to move forward."

Big Brown will break from post 4 under Kent Desormeaux. Both Desormeaux and Dutrow indicated they expect to see Big Brown forwardly placed in the race. But with Get Serious, Fagedaboudit Sal, and Kiss the Kid in the field, there appears to be plenty of speed.

A sharp early pace would aid a horse like Shakis, who rallied from well off the pace to win the Bernard Baruch at Saratoga on Aug. 23. Since coming to this country and McLaughlin, Shakis is 3 for 4 at 1 1/8 miles.

"We're very confident or we wouldn't be running," McLaughlin said. "We feel like we can win the race. We're an older, proven horse at nine furlongs. He's a 3-year-old who ran once on [turf]. He was impressive when he ran on it. If he happens to be that good and loves the turf and we finish second or third, I wouldn't be that surprised, but I think our chances of beating him are good at this time."

Shakis will break from post 3 under Joe Bravo.

Frankel is also confident in his chances of knocking off Big Brown. Frankel said Proudinsky came out of his 11th-place finish in the Grade 1 Manhattan with an abscess and a quarter crack in a foot. Frankel said the foot was better, but not perfect entering the Bernard Baruch where he was beaten just beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Shakis.

"Now, he's right on," Frankel said. "He ran the fastest sheet number in the race, by the way, but he's going to run better."

There are showers forecast for Saturday, and if the turf comes up less than firm, Frankel said that will only help Proudinsky.

"He loves a little cut in the ground," said Frankel, who has Ramon Dominguez to ride his horse from post 6.

Hotstufandthensome and Silver Tree are graded stakes winners over Monmouth's turf. Silver Tree, Drum Major, and Ballonenostrikes are cross-entered in Saturday's $250,000 President's Cup at Philadelphia Park.

o After finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Iselin Handicap, Cuba returns to Jersey-bred company in Saturday's $60,000 New Jersey Breeders' Handicap at 1 1/16 miles. The 7-year-old has to concede 12 to 14 pounds to his eight rivals, who include Bythebeautifulsea and Trueamericanspirit, who finished second and third behind Cuba in the Charlie Hesse III Handicap Aug. 3.

o Kosmos Buddy, Ready for Fortune and Dicey D J, the top three finishers from the Crank It Up Stakes on Aug. 2, will renew acquaintances in the $60,000 Trenton Stakes at five furlongs on the turf.