I have mixed feeling about Big Brown racing in the newly-created Monmouth Stakes this weekend.
On one hand, I am happy to see the Derby winner running at all. After the Belmont, most of us probably thought there was little chance he would ever see the racetrack again, especially considering the fragility of his feet. I've said this many times before, I give Mike Iavarone a lot of credit for continuing to run Big Brown since he really has nothing to gain and everything to lose, financially speaking. So in this respect, I guess we should all be happy that he is even racing at all.
I can also appreciate the connections wanting to run Big Brown on turf as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Those tender feet are probably worse than they are letting on. Rick Dutrow admitted the other day that "he's not a horse that wakes up ready to roll." Those lingering quarter cracks are a very real issue to contend with and the grass is simply an easier surface for Big Brown to run on. I get it.
Finally, I understand the main goal here is the Classic. That is the race which will decide Horse of the Year and carries a $5 million purse. Everything between now and then doesn't matter much to Iavarone and Co. They want their ideal six weeks of rest heading into the big race. I understand.
Admitting all of the above, part of me still thinks the connections took the easy way out the second half of his 3-year-old season and that should count against them. First, they showed up at the Haskell and completely bypassed Saratoga. That is questionable. Saratoga is where champions go.
This latest move to turf I am okay with, but if that is the path you want to take, at least show up in a graded stakes race. There were plenty of options - The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont and the Clement Hirsch Turf Championship at Santa Anita, both on Sept. 27. Or, if they wanted a true prep for the Classic, how about the Goodwood on the same surface he will see in October? Four weeks of rest should be plenty for the Classic, despite what Dutrow says.
Heck, I would have even been fine with the Kentucky Cup Turf this weekend at Kentucky Downs. At least it's a grade III and I'm sure Kentucky Downs would have increased the purse, like Monmouth did.
I would have been okay with any of those options. Instead, they had Monmouth create a new race for them, one that really is a just a glorified allowance race with a big purse. There are a couple proven horses in here, but no grade I winners and nothing Big Brown can't destroy if he is on the top of his game. I have been critical of Curlin's connections in the past as well, but at least when they moved him to turf they chose an established race. There is something to be said for that.
I expect the Derby winner and probable 3-year-old champion to show up against the best. The Haskell wasn't the spot. The Travers was. The Monmouth Stakes isn't the spot. Santa Anita or Belmont was.
I'm wondering how many of you feel about the race this weekend. After all, we are getting to see Big Brown run on turf, which should be fun no matter where it is or what the race is called. But are you excited? Or did this spot turn you off? I have mixed feelings.
If you are planning on betting the race, here is my take on "That Handicapping Show."