Steve Haskin: Belmont Stakes Preview

[image url=""]Steve Haskin[/image]

Blood-Horse senior correspondent Steve Haskin returns to Talkin' Horses for a special Belmont Stakes (gr. I) preview. Now that Big Brown has won the first two jewels of the Triple Crown and moved on to New York, Haskin will be spending plenty of time on the Belmont backstretch, watching Big Brown and his challengers as they prepare for the Test of Champions.

Haskin is an award-winning Turf writer renowned for his Kentucky Derby commentary, with weekly articles, Classic Spotlights, and the "Derby Dozen" all found on the website's special Triple Crown Mania section. Previously, during his nearly three decades at Daily Racing Form, Steve made a name with his "Derby Watch" columns.

Haskin--who has won five Red Smith Awards for his Kentucky Derby coverage--is the author of Horse Racing's Holy Grail - The Epic Quest for the Kentucky Derby and biographies of Dr. FagerJohn Henry, and Kelso—all published by Eclipse Press.

Elizabethtown KY:
How did Big Brown only get a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 in the Preakness?

I'm really not sure, considering runner-up Macho Again was coming off a 99 and dropped to a 92. The third-place finisher Icabad Crane did go up a few points from his previous start, so maybe he was key horse. Or maybe it was the fast final time of the Barbaro Stakes, in which the horses who finished one-two were coming off low Beyers. I don't know how Beyers are computed, so I have to plead ignorance. Big Brown was expected to 'bounce,' or regress off his Derby, and he did. Even his Ragozin number was several points slower than the Derby. Dutrow knew he'd bounce, but felt he'd run a big enough number to win anyway, and that's pretty much what happened.

Louisville, KY:
Last time you were on here I remember complaining about this year's Derby crop. I'm still not impressed, even after Big Brown's romp in the Preakness. Do you think he would've performed this way against last year's crop?

I agree that the crop so far looks to be sub par, but I must emphasize 'so far.' If Casino Drive, Harlem Rocker, and Lieutenant Ron and some others emerge as stars in the next few months, we could change our opinion of the crop. I hate to guess how a horse would have performed against another crop. That's all it is, a guess. You can compare speed figures, but Big Brown has won his races with such ease, and was racing against a strong headwind in the Preakness that his final times are not going to be as fast as other years. However, his Ragozin and Thoro-Graph numbers in the Derby were the fastest ever, so going by their figures, he could have beaten anyone. And let's remember, this is not an ordinary horse. I don't think we know yet what he's capable of. Let's also remember that Seattle Slew beat a very ordinary bunch of 3-year-olds in the Triple Crown and none of his final times were particularly fast except for the Preakness, which was two-fifths faster than Big Brown's. Certainly, no one held that against Slew.

Chicago, IL:
Thanks for your work and the time. What would it take for racing to appoint a commissioner? Someone with the authority to mandate real and necessary changes. We're bleeding here.

We're going to need a big Band-Aid to stop the bleeding. It would take an appointed committee to find someone who is tough and sharp, and knows how to deal with people and issues. Then we have to get the tracks to OK the concept of a one-man governing body who will be allowed to issue punishments for violations without ramifications from any individual jurisdiction. If owners of other sports adhere to this then owners of racetrack should as well. The commissioner's word, like on other sports, is the final word. The next best thing would be for the governing body itself to issue rulings. But the way the sport is run now is a joke.

Arrington, TN:
Steve, Do you have any scoop about the rationale to take Calvin Borel off of Denis of Cork? Carroll said it was due to Albarado's success at Belmont, nothing more, but something seems suspicious. Do you know of any dissatisfaction with Borel's ride in the Derby? Thanks.

There is no rationale. It's the owner's decision, just as it was his and his advisors' decision to skip the Rebel Stakes, which turned out to be a big blunder. There is no logical reason to take Borel off. He gave him a flawless ride in the Derby and helped him get third by saving ground from an outside post. There simply are still too many chefs in this stew.

Ossineke, MI:
Steve thank you for all of your insight into Thoroughbred racing, it has helped me a lot. My question is: I don't really understand why a horse has to carry weight in a race. Why can't they just run without any? Just race him with the jockey and that's it. Can you please give us insight. Thank you.

The concept of weights, or handicaps, was instituted when there were only three types of wagers – win, place, and show; and later one daily double on the first and second race. Weights were designed to bring the horses closer together for wagering purposes. If you had a horse who was 1-5, there was nothing you could do except bet someone to place or show for a minimal payoff. With the big favorite carrying more weight than the others, it gave the bettors a better chance to beat him. Now, with the advent of exactas, trifectas, quinellas, superfectas, pick 4s, pick 6s, and doubles on multiple races, there is no more need for handicaps, because you can now use the favorite in several ways. I don’t mind keeping handicaps, but not in graded stakes, certainly not in grade I stakes. Those are meant to determine champions, and you cannot penalize horses for being more talented than the others.

Santa Monica, CA:
People are saying that if Big Brown wins the Triple Crown, its 'good for racing'. Other than potentially creating new fans, is there any other way that a Triple Crown winner can be 'good for racing'? Or, is creating new fans enough?

Creating new fans and stirring interest on a national level better be enough, because that’s all it’s going to do. In some ways, it actually hurts the sport, because there is a good chance a Triple Crown winner will be retired after the Belmont and that sends a totally opposite message. IEAH is fearless, and I know Dutrow wants to keep him racing him through the Breeders’ Cup, so let’s hope they do right by the horse and the sport. The horse’s worth has already been established and it’s not going to diminish if he happens to get beat. Getting beat on several occasions after the Triple Crown certainly didn’t affect the reputations of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Citation, and Whirlaway, and it’s not going to affect the reputation of Big Brown. The more he races the higher the attendances and handle and the more publicity for the sport he will generate.

Saratoga, NY:
Mr. Haskin in light of the current bad publicity our sport is getting, do you foresee a zero tolerance like our European friends carry out being implemented in the near future?

Zero tolerance in what, drugs? The use of the whip? It’s difficult to start right out with zero tolerance, but how about 10% tolerance and then work our way down to zero. This sport has got to be tougher than other sports because we’ve let 80% tolerance go on for too long. In order to stop the cheaters from cheating we have to let them know that the consequences of their actions will result in real-time suspensions and possibly the end of their careers. Close down the barn and make the owners send their horses to other trainers if they want to race them. That will stop the cheating in a hurry.

New Berlin, WI:
What do you think of having a possible Triple Crown? Do you think Big Brown will do it? Out of all the Triple Crown winners who is your favorite?

Right now he sure looks like he’s going to do it, but I’ve seen too many failed attempts to get too confident. The Belmont is not like other races, and it’s going to take a horse who is not like other horses to sweep all three races. So far, Big Brown fits that bill. I’ve only seen three Triple Crown winners. I liked them all, but I was closest to Secretariat, and he was the one who broke the first drought. He raised the equine genus to another level and brought racing back into the national spotlight. So, for that, he’d be my favorite.

Montreal, Quebec:
Hello Steve, Can you please explain what exactly the steroid Winstrol does for Big Brown. Forgive my ignorance, but does Big Brown stand a better chance of winning the Belmont on this steroid?

Winstrol is an anabolic steroid that does improve muscle growth and bone density and helps build up red blood cells, but it is usually given to Thoroughbreds to stimulate their appetite. What their effect is on a horse’s performance I don’t think anyone knows for sure. The trainers who use it will claim it has no effect on performance. Those who don’t use it will say it does. I can’t see how steroids are going help perpetuate the breed. Our horses already have too much junk in their body. It’s the sport’s fault for allowing it and not testing for it more than it is the trainer’s fault. Many trainers who can afford it will take every advantage they can, especially if it’s legal. If you diminish the reputations of horses like Big Brown and Curlin for using Winstrol, then you’ll have very few heroes in this sport to follow and root for. In addition, we don’t know what kind of doses these horses are getting. If it’s just a small amount to stimulate the appetite, that’s one thing. If they’re massive doses that build up their muscles to the point where you look at then and go “Wow!” that’s another matter. I would like to believe they don’t affect a horse’s performance.

Lexington, KY:
How would you compare Big Brown to Curlin at this point? Who do you think is the fastest, most talented, and will be a better sire?

I can’t compare them, because Curlin’s greatness was not established until the fall of his 3-year-old career. Who knows what Big Brown will have accomplished by then? They’re both special horses. Big Brown is unlike any horse I have ever seen, not so much in ability as much as everything about him. I can’t recall being around one like him in my 40 years in racing. You have to be around him to understand what I mean. In this day and age it’s impossible to determine who is going to make a top sire. For a son of Boundary to have won the Derby and Preakness, it’s enough to make you throw the sire out of the mix. The wires between the sires and dams all seem to be crossed nowadays and you have no idea where a top horse is going to come from.

Eddyville KY:
Do you think that Big Brown will win the Belmont or do you think Casino Drive or Denis of Cork or others can beat him?

To make this response as simple as possible, he should. But I never get too confident when it comes to the Belmont. That is venturing into an unknown region for these horses. It’s his race to lose. If he does, Casino Drive and Denis of Cork would be the logical ones to pick up the pieces. Casino Drive looks special in his own right, and we really have no idea just how good he is.

Cedar Hill, TX:
Hi Steve, Excluding Big Brown, how strong would you rate this 3yr old crop? I think Big Brown is a freak who also has come around at the right time to win The Triple Crown. I hope Casino Drive makes him work for it though. Thank you.

As I mentioned earlier, as of now, it looks weak with very little depth. It is the weakness of the crop that likely is keeping Big Brown’s Beyer numbers down. That could change. It’s a long year. They said Alysheba’s crop was weak, especially after he won the Derby in very slow time. By the end of the year it was one of the deepest, most talented crops ever.

Louisville, KY:
I've been hearing a lot from PETA lately about the whip, synthetic racing surfaces, and some even going as far as saying the sport should end! Where do you stand on all these things? Do you think the racing industry will give into PETA and do what they want them to do?

Of course racing will not give in to PETA, which only got 22 people to protest at the Preakness. They were hoping for 150. If the reporters and photographers didn’t show up they would have lost interest and gone home. As an animal lover I’m all for an organization to protect them, but PETA has become a group of radicals, who actually have more animals euthanized than anyone. They’ve mutated into a hate group that look for any reason to give them an excuse to protest. Their protests and demands were based on ignorance of Thoroughbred racing. To compare it to dog fighting is so ludicrous it’s not even worth commenting on. I will say, however, that they at least they got racing to form a committee to study the safety of the horse, and I feel the overuse of the whip is a topic that must be addressed. England has little tolerance of the whip and issues stiff penalties for hitting a horse repeatedly (I believe it’s anything more than seven times, or close to it). We have to follow that same course and penalize jockeys who abuse the whip.

York County, PA:
If Big Brown wins the Triple Crown does this automatically make him a lock for Horse of the Year honors? What would Curlin have to do to repeat? Also, would Eclipse award voters hold his potentially early retirement against Big Brown?

If Big Brown sweeps the Triple Crown he will be Horse of the Year, unless Curlin defeats him soundly. Even then it’ll still be close. Seattle Slew beat Affirmed twice in 1978, but Affirmed was Horse of the Year. Dutrow feels that some people might not vote for the horse because they don’t like him. I agree that some people might vote against him for that reason, which is wrong. Some people might not like IEAH. But then again, there are people who probably don’t like Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen, so that could balance itself out. Voters are used to early retirements by now, so that won’t affect anything. It was announced early enough for them to get used to the idea.

Copiague, NY:
Steve, I am not conceding the Belmont Stakes to Big Brown yet. Todd Pletcher's Ready's Echo finished fast and full of run in the Peter Pan. I think he has a good chance of upsetting Big Brown or Casino Drive. What do you think?

He’d have to make a dramatic improvement to compete with the big two. It’s not like he has a pedigree that’s going to make up 6 1/4 lengths on Casino Drive going 1 1/2 miles. He’s by More Than Ready and he’s had only four lifetime starts. He looks to be a promising colt, but I would think the Dwyer would be a better spot for him.

Hastings, NY:
Hi Steve! Once again, thank you for your flawless writing. There is no doubt that Big Brown is a phenomenal horse, but I feel that too many people are already handing him the Triple Crown trophy. I feel that all the accolades he's received have been doled out before -- to Funny Cide and Smarty Jones. What makes Big Brown different from the two of them? Why will he (possibly) win the Crown when they couldn't?

I don’t know about flawless, but I thank you. He’s much different than those two because he can do anything -- go to the lead, sit off the pace and relax, race very wide or be on the rail, and he has push-button acceleration. He has an aura of greatness about him. He’s not great yet, but if there is anything that appears to be flawless it’s Big Brown. Funny Cide and Smarty Jones could get rank on you and that’s the kiss of death in the Belmont. That’s what happened to them; they were unable to settle and relax. Big Brown will relax as long as Desormeaux wants him to.

Nashville, TN:
How does Big Brown stack up against the 11 Triple Crown Winners?

That can’t be answered until he wins the Triple Crown and is retired to stud, whenever that will be. If you want comparisons right now, compare him to the horses who have won the first two legs. Until he wins the Belmont, that’s the group he he’s in.

Newark DE:
Without a whip during a race, your thoughts on, horse performance, jockey skills, and bettors’ chances?

Jockeys need to carry a whip, because some horses are lazy and will not put out unless they’re encouraged to do so. They need to limit the use of the whip. After six or seven cracks of the whip you will either get the needed response or you won‘t. Any whipping after that is unnecessary and needs to be dealt with by the stewards. And any jockey whipping a horse at all after he’s been beaten off should be fined heavily or suspended. This will test jockeys’ skills and show off the ones who know how to get the most out of a horse with their hands and communication.

La Quinta, CA:
More of a comment, I could not believe that Steve Haskin; with all of his experience did not pick Big Brown before the Derby. I myself with 3 years into the sport saw BB for the 1st time in the Florida Derby and after I said, we are looking at the next Triple Crown Winner... Steve this was a No Brainer, how could you have failed to see this MONSTER coming? People rely on your picks, luckily I did not!! Luke

I spotted his potential after the allowance race and put him on top after the Florida Derby, but then lowered him looking for a price horse. It was easy spotting his potential, but as a historian it’s not easy ignoring almost a century of history, and history told us horses don’t win the Derby with only three starts. I would rather not rank him on top and be wrong than go against all history and logic and be wrong. It has nothing to do with experience; it has to do with trying to find a value horse in the Kentucky Derby. I took a shot on a horse I had been high on for a while and I was wrong. I take more pride in my Derby selection based on looks and works and gallops at Churchill Downs, and am more than happy with my selection of Denis of Cork. People should not “rely” on anyone’s picks. They should read their explanations and then use them if they wish to make their own selections. I’m glad you chose to bet the favorite. I rarely do.

Newmarket, England:
Hi Steve, one race from Triple Crown history-or will Better Than Honour produce have her own Triple Crown with Casino Drive? Which one would you choose, bearing in mind all that has been happening?

I’m not sure what bearing all that’s been happening would have on who I would choose, unless you’re referring to something regarding Dutrow or IEAH. Right now, I have to choose Big Brown, but Casino Drive is a terrific horse. It’s just a question of whether he’s ready for the Belmont off only two starts.

Floral Park, NY:
I thought Big Brown's Preakness was even more impressive after noticing that the two horses (Gayego & Riley Tucker) that were in front of him going down the backside wound up finishing last and next to last. What do you make of that?

You can take a positive spin on that the way you did or you can take the opposite approach and say his explosive move looked better than it was because the two horses he exploded away from were  tiring so badly they would finish at the back of the pack.

Canandaigua, NY:
Steve let’s get right to it. Big brown so far has been awesome against what some could argue a lackluster group of his peers. While he can't be faulted for his competition comparisons to Secretariat are frankly offensive. Your thoughts please.

Of course you can’t compare him to Secretariat at this point. Secretariat was Horse of the Year at 2, while Big Brown won a maiden turf race. Secretariat won the Triple Crown; Big Brown hasn’t. Secretariat went on to win four major stakes after the Triple Crown on dirt and turf. Big Brown will be lucky to make three more starts all year. As I said, right now there is no comparison.

Hudsonville, MI:
Hello again, Steve! Tell me, please, what is the difference between Big Brown and the other recent winners of two-thirds of the TC (who failed in the Belmont)? I am a Silver Charm fan forever and believe that he and Point Given are the only two in the last 11 years that really deserved to win the TC. Your opinion?

You can’t compare Big Brown to an entire group of horses. He would compare differently to Silver Charm than he would to War Emblem. Both the horses you mentioned were terrific horses, but I still haven’t seen a horse that won two-thirds of the TC who belongs in the same category as Secretariat, Slew, Affirmed, Citation, Whirlaway, Count Fleet etc. Maybe if Point Given and Charm had won all three races they’d be looked at differently. Whether Big Brown belongs remains to be seen. Considering the few races he’s had and will have, it would be difficult to include him. But I do believe he is a special horse who could carve his own niche in racing history should he win the Belmont.

West Caldwell, NJ:
Steve: So our Giants won the Super Bowl and we are on the verge of a Triple Crown. All is right in the universe!! That said, let's look into the future to October 25, 2008. Assuming Big Brown wins the Belmont and each stays healthy, can we anticipate a clash of the titans - Big Brown vs. Curlin in the Breeders' Cup Classic?

As of now, I would think Curlin has a better chance of running in the Arc than the BC Classic. Asmussen hates the synthetic surfaces to race on. Synthetic surfaces prove nothing, so why bother running in a championship race over it when your horse could easily finish off the board if he doesn’t like it. Dutrow wants to run Big Brown in the Classic to add another dimension to his resume as a stallion. He believes he can run on anything.

Wyoming, MI:
What are your thoughts on the fact that the Big Brown team have already announced he will be retiring to stud in '09? Don't you think that takes a bit of the fun out of watching this horse? I do.

So do I, but you have to enjoy each race as it comes or just root for geldings. To be honest, I don’t know if we’ll ever see a champion 3-year-old run at 4 again. As one person told me, the object of every owner now is to have a horse good enough for Sheikh Mohammed to want to buy him after his maiden victory.

Corbin, KY:
Steve, Andy Beyer said "Horses don't prove much by winning easily. They prove themselves by beating good competition." I believe this as much as anyone. Dutrow said "everyone wants to see something great" I personally don't believe running slow times and beating tomato cans even in Triple Crown races defines greatness. What do you think and how would this horse match up against last year’s bunch? He flat out reminds me of a slower Bernardini.

Don’t let the Ragozin and Thoro-Graph people hear you say he’s run slow times. Running the fastest number in Derby history is not exactly slow. If by tomato cans you mean they are not good horses I will agree they have not been an exciting bunch. I already expressed my thoughts about comparing Big Brown to last year’s bunch. And yes, horses do define themselves by the competition they beat. But then how come Seattle Slew was considered one of the all-time greats as a 3-year-old when he beat horses just as mediocre as this bunch? You have to take many things into consideration, not just who they beat.

Cleveland, OH:
Hi Steve, Well it's already begun: the nay-sayers claiming that even if Big Brown goes on to win the Triple Crown, he hasn't actually beaten a stellar crop of horses or that he is too lightly raced to have been battle tested (as some of the comments on Preakness Day were made) I went through the DRF's of the three Triple Crowns of the 70's to see who the winners faced. With the exceptions of Alydar, Believe It, Sham, Forego and a few others who are (justifiably) noteworthy, how many "superstars" were left in the wake of the TC winners in those years?? It's ironic that this entire sport is so hungry for a Triple Crown yet there are some who are already trying to diminish the significance. What do you think? I can hardly wait for June 7th!! May the racing gods favor this horse who seems to be "THE ONE" and give us all the answer to our prayers. Also, I recently read an interesting article featuring an equine genetics expert, offering the theory of the gene that Big Brown carries which, like Secretariat, seems to result in a larger than average heart and the body composition to go along with it. Did you read this too? What do you think? Looking forward - as always- to read your comments. And thanks for always replying when I send you an email message. It's appreciated that you take the time to respond. Best regards, Joanne.

I wrote about the heart measurement, so I am well aware of it. I just addressed the crop issue in the previous question (assuming they keep them in order). There are always going to be nay-sayers and that’s fine. Racing is a sport of opinions. It would be boring if everyone agreed with everyone. But some nay-sayers just like being nay-sayers, so you can ignore them.

Louisville, KY:
Steve, excellent coverage of the Trail thus far, and we forgive you for your Monba Derby selection. Big Brown looks awesome. With his Derby and Preakness romps, the tragedy of Eight Belles, and the exciting newcomer Casino Drive, I think that Denis of Cork is flying way under the radar. He ran a sneaky good race in the Derby, the only horse closing into the moderate fractions. The horses that ran 1,2,4,5, and 6 were in those same positions in slightly different order at the 1/4 pole. Denis was the only horse who came from out of it. How do you rate his chances at an upset in the Belmont? Thanks.

Thank you for your forgiveness. I’m glad someone has a forgiving nature. I imagine you know by now my thoughts on Denis of Cork (I did pick him second and first in the works and looks category). I think he definitely is flying under the radar, and I’m looking forward seeing him run in the Belmont. He is a much better horse than people think and I can only see him improving big-time off the Derby.

Toronto, Ontario:
Hi Steve, You are a highly regarded and respected thoroughbred analyst; however, what did you miss about the brilliance of Big Brown, following his first start of the year. I ask because Jeff Siegel on HRTV was extremely confident after that start, that Big Brown was the best 3-year-old to appear so far. How could he have been so confident, in your view?

I didn’t miss anything. I was just as impressed with him as anyone; I just didn’t think he’d win the Kentucky Derby off that allowance race, the second start of his career. The rest of my concerns about him at that point have already been discussed. Jeff Siegel did think he’d win the Derby and more power to him. That’s why he’s a handicapper. Writers have never been known to be great handicappers.

Brentwood, TN:
Steve: I love your work, particularly your analysis of watching the horses work prior to a race and telling us who is sitting on a big race, and how they compare with works you have observed in the past. Following your lead has helped me look pretty smart in picking the Derby winner and/or some live longshots the last few years. My question, however, is legacy. Assuming Big Brown wins the Belmont, how do you feel he stacks against some of the greats of all time? My concern is that he is a great horse, but his competition is so average that we may be overrating him a bit when comparing him to the pantheon of great horses. What are your thoughts?

Thanks for acknowledging that. That’s what I take most pride in. Scroll up a little and you’ll find my answer to your question. Is it possible we are overrating him? Yes. But it’s still too early to tell. Let’s address that after the Belmont.

Valley Stream, NY:
Hi Steve, Great job on all the Derby Analysis, we appreciate it. I don't see any speed besides Big Brown, have you seen any speed signed on for the Belmont? I picture Casino Drive sitting outside of him if so or vice versa? Thanks.

Thank you. Speed is relative going a mile and a half. If I were on Big Brown I wouldn’t hesitate to send him to the front if no one wanted the lead. And right now I can’t imagine who would want it or are capable of getting it. The one thing Casino Drive has in his favor is his stride. He has the perfect stride for Belmont and 1 1/2 miles.

Ozone Park, NY:
Steve, I being hearing that the owners, pending if Big Brown has an easy trip, would like Kent to break Secretariat’s record of 31. It'd be great for the sport but pushing the envelope?

Trying to break Secretariat’s record margin would be nothing short of dumb. Just saying it is dumb and way too cocky, if indeed they said it. I haven’t read that anywhere. It would be stupid and arrogant to purposely push a horse to break that record.

Coral Springs, FL:
Hi Steve, Have you heard anything on Curlin planning to race in the BC on the "attic stuff?" I know he's scheduled to race in the Foster. What’s your take on him on poly?

I wouldn’t bet on it. Anything is possible, but I can see Curlin going elsewhere. I would not want to see Horse of the Year decided on an artificial surface. We’ll probably have some 40-1 synthetic/grass specialist beat them all.

Juno Beach, FL:
Steve, Do you think a son of Boundary can really go the distance seriously, even with his bottom pedigree? Also, who do you like as an overlay coming in to the Belmont? Thank you.

I can’t see a son of Boundary winning the Belmont, except this particular son of Boundary. There is nothing typical about him. But if he does get beat you can certainly blame his sire if you wish. I couldn’t see a son of Boundary winning the Derby, but this horse defies all the rules, and his inbreeding to Damascus, Round Table, and Northern Dancer certainly helps, as does his broodmare sire Nureyev. I still like Denis of Cork at a good price. I can see Icabad Crane moving way up off the Preakness.

Wilton, NY:
I think it is quite possible that Big Brown will be retired if he wins the Belmont Stakes, to protect the horse. I also think it's quite possible he would be retired if he lost the Belmont, to protect the investment. Do you see Big Brown running again after the Belmont? Or will they find an excuse to send him to stud, blaming, let's say, his notoriously "bad feet"?

Rick Dutrow sees him running, so I’ll have to until I hear otherwise. If he’s retired after the Belmont he sits around all year accomplishing nothing. Losing does not diminish his value, because he’s already paid for, and as I mentioned earlier, every Triple Crown winner has lost afterward and it didn’t hurt their reputation. No one can be sure what IEAH will do, and they could get pressure from Three Chimneys, but it’s their call, so let’s hope they do the right thing and the horse doesn’t come up with one of those phantom injuries that nobody buys anyway.

Do you think a Match Race between Big Brown and Curlin could be possible?

No. Racing frowns upon match races, they prove little, and why would Curlin’s connections want to have a match race with Big Brown when speed has such a huge advantage?

Columbia, MY:
Hi Mr. Haskin: With the recent disclosure that Big Brown is administered Winstrol on a regular basis and the filly Eight Belles was not, how should we interpret his wins in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness (or even the Triple Crown if that happens)? Even though the use of Winstrol is legal in KY, MD, and NY, should we not treat Big Brown's performances with the same suspicion we have for professional human athletes known to have taken similar steroids (notwithstanding the fact that it is legal for Big Brown and it is illegal for professional human athletes)? Did Secretariat run on steroids? What about Seattle Slew and Affirmed? What is your position on steroid use in horse racing?

I addressed this earlier. We don’t know for sure what effect Winstrol has on a horse’s performance, so I can’t really say how one should interpret his wins. It’s up to each individual. I feel all steroids should be banned everywhere, because we don’t know what lingering effects they may have. Some horses even can come down with a bad case of ringworm from steroid overuse. I have no idea who has run on steroids years ago, if anyone. We never knew about steroids back then.

Davis, CA:
What do you hear of West Point TB's Grand Vow (Broken Vow)? I noticed he is no longer trained by Richard Violette, and is now being handled by Kiaran McLaughlin. Further, what has become of Klaravich Stables' Fed Watcher (Songandaprayer)? I thought both colts would be heard from as three year olds this year and wonder if you have any idea what is going on with them. Many thanks in advance!

I really haven’t been following those two horses. If you e-mail me ( I will find out for you. West Point took their horses away from Violette.

China, MI:
I am a PETA member and BloodHorse subscriber. I feel conflicted lately. But I think I am coming to terms with the Eight Belles tragedy and aftermath. Horses have to have jobs or they'll probably go to slaughter. There's not a lot of demand for pasture grazers. But things that aren’t safe for horses need to improve. PETA will get things to happen faster. The common ground to me is to improve rescue and retraining. Thoroughbred organizations do this better than any other. I guess my question is more of a comment. I would like to know where the horses that finished last in the Derby for the last 10 years are today. That could be a comment on the real state of affairs.

You made similar points I made in an earlier reply. I’m glad there are some rational members of PETA like you. If PETA would work with racing instead of condemning it and making outlandish statements without knowing what they’re talking about, they could help get things accomplished that should have been years done ago. The sport has been lackadaisical in taking proper safety measures, other than its attempt to make tracks safer by the use of synthetic surfaces. But I think they rushed into that without making the proper studies. Dirt tracks can be made just as safe with proper management, a state-of-the-art new track, and a good track superintendent, just as Oaklawn did this year. For only $100,000 they installed a terrific new track and had only five major injuries all meet. PETA did help in getting racing to form a new safety committee, but they did it the wrong way. I applauded them in the Michael Vick affair, but for them to compare racing to that is so absurd I don’t even know how to comment on it. I just believe they’ve become too fanatical. I hope there are a lot more PETA members like you.

Frederick, MD:
Hi Steve, I just wanted to thank you for both your Derby and Preakness recap articles. After reading all the negative press about Rick Dutrow, it was a pleasure to see your story about Rick Dutrow, the horseman and the passion he brings to his work. Bob

Thanks, Bob. Rick certainly hasn’t been an angel, and I’m not excusing his violations and suspensions, but there is another side to him that people should know. I don’t know of any trainer who loves and cares for his horses as much as Rick does.

Louisville, KY:
I hate to move so far off topic from what everyone else probably wants to talk about, but my question concerns the Breeders' Cup. Do you think it is likely that all those west coast also-rans from the Derby will have a legitimate chance in the BC Classic on whatever synthetic Santa Anita installs? Will we see Curlin vs. Big Brown in the Classic? Thanks.

Any horse who has shown a liking for the synthetic surfaces out there will have a huge advantage over the Eastern shippers who have been racing on dirt. So, I see this year’s Breeders’ Cup as having the potential to be a farce in determining champions. You’re very likely going to see some bizarre results. Many top horses won’t even go out there, one of them possibly being Curlin. If you have a horse who has already shown a disdain for synthetic surfaces, like Preakness runner-up Macho Again and many others, why in the world would you send them 3,000 miles to finish up the track?

Louisville, KY:
Simple question - Do you think Big Brown will ever race Curlin?

Anything is possible, but I wouldn’t want to see them face each other in the Breeders’ Cup. Just imagine them both getting beat by one or more synthetic course specialists who wouldn’t come within 10 lengths of them on dirt. What a way to end their careers.  How about the Jockey Club Gold Cup or Woodward Stakes?

Lutherville, MD:
Steve, After watching Casino Drive destroy the Peter Pan field and seeing Big Brown toy with the Preakness field, I can only say I cannot wait until the Belmont. If Big Brown can summon forth another super effort in the Belmont this ought to be one for the ages. Casino Drive with his folks - particularly his dam - and his incredible stride is a Belmont horse if there ever was one. What are your thoughts about this incredible match?

You said it all. It’s an incredible match. Having a Japanese horse standing in the way of a Triple Crown sweep, and all the Japanese people and media that will attend, adds something we’ve never seen before. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that it all comes to fruition. What a great day that will be if it does.

Louisville, KY:
About this time last year I asked you to look past the Triple Crown and tell us what else you were looking forward to in the summer. If my memory serves me correctly, you were very excited about what Invasor could possibly accomplish. Unfortunately, we all know what happened to that amazing horse. This year, is there anything on your radar other than Curlin that can make the second half of the year interesting?

Right now, I can’t look past Big Brown and Curlin. As long as I get to Sergio's, Chianti, and Beverly's during Saratoga, that'll be interesting enough. This is one year I am not really looking forward to the Breeders' Cup for obvious reasons.

Lexington, KY:
Hi Steve. First, let me say that I enjoyed reading your latest book, 'Tales from the Triple Crown'. Of all the interesting tidbits, I had forgotten what Touch Gold had endured with his hoof problems during his brilliant career. Big Brown has been handled with kid gloves compared to Touch Gold. Touch Gold was a very tough colt, indeed. As for the Belmont, do you think that Casino Drive is up to the task with only two lifetime races under his belt? And, what's this comment from Dutrow that Casino was "on his belly" in the Peter Pan? I had never heard that phrase before.

Thanks. If Casino Drive can win the Belmont off two starts he's as much of a freak as Big Brown is now. He may very well be, but it's an awfully tough task. That's Dutrow's favorite phrase. He means fully extended (getting low to the ground). He certainly didn't look fully extended to me. There looks to be a lot left in the proverbial tank. But sometimes, second race after quarantine can be a regression. We really don't know what to expect from him. All I know is that he's an exceptional horse to have done what he has already.

Pismo Beach, CA:
Among synthetic surfaces, does your handicapping vary between polytrack, tapeta footings and cushion track ? Do you have some kind of data about it or you feel there is no difference ? Thanks!

There is a difference for sure. Polytrack is my least favorite, at least Keeneland's Polytrack is, because it doesn't resemble dirt racing in the slightest, and way too many good horses despise it. That makes for bad racing. The Cushion Track at Santa Anita this winter was dreadful, and then improved a good deal after they renovated it and put in the Pro-ride. Polytrack at Del Mar last year was an embarrassment because of how the track slowed to a crawl after the sun came out it and warmed it up. They were running harness horse times. There is so much rubber material in the track; it didn't react to the heat well at all. Hollywood's Cushion Track seems OK, as does Turfway's Polytrack. They at least resemble dirt racing.

Ames, IA:
What was the thinking behind Big Brown's "blowout" the morning of the Preakness and doing it again the morning of the Belmont. This seems highly unusual and a bit of a risk of tiring Big Brown out? Although he did look to be a very relaxed horse running around Pimlico. Also people are beginning to think Casino Drive is better than Big Brown because his Peter Pan Beyer was better than Brown's Preakness Beyer, your thoughts?

I can't criticize anything that works. Dutrow is a brilliant horseman and he knows what he's doing. He obviously knew his horse and what he needs. Most trainers I spoke to were flabbergasted by the move, but you can't fault the results. As to his thinking, one does not attempt to penetrate the mind of Mr. Dutrow. As they say in Star Trek, "to go where no man has dared to go." Or something like that. Rick is in his own zone, and you just accept the fact that he knows what he's doing. All horses used to blow out 3 furlongs the morning before a race, so a quarter-mile blowout is not that much different. Remember, too, he missed several gallops due to a bad track, so he needed to be sharpened a little.

San Clemente, CA:
Mr. Haskin, Have you heard anything as to the health and whereabouts of Colonel John? Also, I could not see his entire trip... what happened to him in your personal opinion? I think he is a much better horse than what happened at Churchill. (He would not have won, however I feel he could have gotten 3rd, maybe) I am a huge fan of him since he last ran @ Del Mar last summer.

The last I heard he came out of the race fine and will return to the synthetic surfaces, likely pointing for the Swaps Stakes. He actually made a strong move around the turn, but couldn't sustain it. You never know how a horse is going to handle the dirt for the first time after running and training on synthetics his whole life. I believe he handled the dirt just fine, but was probably one race away from his best. I'm surprised, with his pedigree and the move he made, they didn't point him for the Belmont Stakes.

Hollywood, CA:
Mr. Haskin; I know it’s early, but have any two year olds caught your eye this year?

Not really. I did see a couple of fast horses run, but to be honest with you I can't remember their names. I'll start concentrating more on the 2-year-olds in the next couple of weeks.

Pittsburgh, PA:
Steve, I love your videos with Lenny-please do more after the Belmont! If a sound Big Brown is retired after the Belmont, won't that be another huge blow against Racing? Two factual questions: Are tongue-ties used on most American horses? Are there significantly less fatal injuries on turf compared to dirt? Thanks!

They're getting to be a lot of fun to do. Big Brown's retirement would indeed be a blow to racing, so I'm hoping Dutrow is right when he says he's looking forward to running him in the BC Classic. Tongue ties seem to be used more and more, but I don't know that they're used on most horses. I don't have any stats on the difference between grass and dirt breakdowns, but I am pretty sure there are far less breakdowns on the grass than dirt.

Lexington, KY:
Steve, it appears the rules of racing logic are shifting to "anything can happen". Last year Barbaro's trainer was criticized for 5 weeks being too long before the Derby, this year Big Brown can't win off just three races. What do you think, a fluke or are trainers getting better at preparing in the mornings?

Neither. I just think all our horses are so geared to a light racing schedule, they're all pretty much in the same boat. Look at how many top horses went into the Derby off only two starts this year. That used to be taboo. Now you have a horse with a legitimate chance to win the Belmont off two lifetime starts. It's crazy. I remember when horses raced, and weren't babied like the horses of today. Trainers and owners are all in a prevention and protective mode. The more you baby horses the more fragile they become, and they're not prepared for the rigors of the sport when they are exposed to them. Fragility breeds fragility and so on and so on. That's why you have to admire horses like Hard Spun and Afleet Alex, throwbacks to the days of the tough, durable horses. 

Albany, NY:
Casino Drive wore front bandages in the Peter Pan but not in his first race in Japan. Any idea if he will wear them in the Belmont and does that make much of a difference to your handicapping if they come off or not?

The track in Tokyo is much softer than Belmont Park, so with him winning the way he did, I'm sure he'll wear them again in the Belmont. They're just for added protection, and I'm no more concerned about them as I am Big Brown's front bandages. Normally, I don't like to see them, but these two horses have gone way beyond that. 

Washington DC:
Steve, We all know how talented Mineshaft was and his affinity for Belmont. How has he fared as a sire so far? Watching Casino Drive it is hard not to be reminded of his sire.

Mineshaft was an underrated horse, mainly because he didn't run in the Breeders' Cup. He's started off great as a sire, and also has had Cool Coal Man this year among others. Casino Drive doesn't look much like him, but he runs like him, with his head a bit low and those long, fluid strides. They get that from Mineshaft's sire A.P. Indy

Paris, KY:
Would Cigar have won 16 races in a row if Holy Bull had stayed healthy?

Of course, there is no way of telling, but I would have to say no, because Holy Bull was so good at the end of this 3-year-old campaign and even better early at 4 that I believe he was on the verge of having a phenomenal year. From what little one could tell from the Donn before the injury, I thought Holy Bull was going the better of the two. But again, we didn't know how great Cigar was. I'd like to think the Donn would have been the beginning of a memorable rivalry. I don't think people really ever got a chance to see how great Holy Bull really was. His win in the Woodward was spectacular, and he beat talented grade I older horses by daylight in the Woodward and Met Mile. I just don't know if he would have been as effective at 1 1/4 miles against Cigar.

Grants Pass, OR:
I know Big Brown is a very nice colt, but honestly I do not think he's even close to Affirmed or Seattle Slew, the past two Triple Crown winners. I think the American public and racing community is just so starved for a Triple Crown winner. I have great respect for your opinion, what are your thoughts on this?

Affirmed and Slew were 2-year-old champions, so we knew what they were when they ran in the Derby. Big Brown has emerged from out of nowhere. Let's see if Big Brown wins the Belmont first, and then we can start comparing him to Affirmed and Slew. He's not a great horse yet, but he certainly has the potential to be. If he should win the Belmont, Travers, and BC Classic, it would be hard to deny him his place with the all-time greats.

Ft. Lauderdale, FL:
Steve, I do not think that Prado's ride was such a terrible thing in the Preakness. Dutrow to me is being extremely arrogant about this whole situation, as this horse is not beating a hell of a whole lot. I especially take issue with his criticism of Edgar as he tried to box in the horse he had to beat, and if he did not, which he didn't do successfully, the horse would win going away. What is your take on Prado's ride, and Dutrow? I do not think the majority of racing fans and casual fans alike want to see this horse win, due to the arrogance of the connections from owner, trainer, to jockey.

If anyone had criticized Eddie Arcaro or Bill Shoemaker for trying to box in a 1-5 favorite on the first turn, they would have laughed in their face. Prado gets paid to win, and if you can box in a 1-5 favorite and help your chances, you'd be stupid not to. Now, if he had done that on the second turn, knowing he was out of horse, then that's a different story. In that case, you wish Desormeaux good luck and stay out of his way. But on the first turn when it's anyone's race, Prado could have easily come back with: "What was Desormeaux doing on the rail with a 1-5 shot in the first place."

Davie, FL:
Steve, After reading Mr. Squires chat from last week one thing struck me, and I would like your opinion. He mentioned that Big Brown winning the Triple Crown would be good for racing, but for a horse to win it with foot problems, slow competition, and a trainer who has a history of positive drug tests is not good for the industry. As a breeder, do you think he speaks for most breeders?

I can't speak for breeders. I don't know what their way of thinking is and what they want to see. Do they care about perpetuating the breed as a whole or just perpetuating their own horses and bloodlines? Seattle Slew beat mostly mediocre horses, and Big Brown's sheets numbers have been very strong. And we don't know how fast he'll run in the Belmont. If he beats Casino Drive, Denis of Cork, Tale of Ekati etc. that's just as impressive as Slew beating Run Dusty Run, Sanhedrin, Mr. Red Wing, and Iron Constitution. And after Sham, who got hurt, Secretariat beat Twice a Prince in the Belmont. Let's see what happens in the Belmont before casting judgment on whether he's deserving. As for Dutrow, you'll have to ask the breeders if his winning the Triple Crown is good for the industry.

Garland, TX:
Thanks for taking our questions again; I always look forward to your answers. If you had to pick one book on horse racing to read, which one would it be?

Either Big Red of Meadow Stable, Ruffian: Burning From the Start; or Seabiscuit. I also loved the book on Funny Cide. There are two old books I was weaned on that I recommend if you can find them: Crazy About Horses by Sam Toperoff (if you're a bettor) and The Fireside Book of Horse Racing, which has great stories.

Aurora, CO:
Which horse(s) that finished off the board in this year's Ky Derby or Preakness should we watch for improvement in the fall stakes races?

Colonel John, Recapturetheglory, Pyro, and Visionaire.

Highlands Ranch, CO:
Mr. Haskin: What kind of races do you consider to be the most conducive to wagering (e.g., 6F turf sprints, $30K maiden claimers), and why? Tracks you consider to be most "honest" or predictable?

I actually like 2-year-old maiden races, because you can use pedigrees, trainers, and workout patterns and see things others don't, and you often get big prices. High-priced claimers are always interesting, because it's hard to separate them from allowance races, and you have horses moving down from allowance company and up from lower claiming races. Lots of angles. The tracks I consider the most honest and predictable are Aqueduct's main track, Oaklawn, Fair Grounds, and Laurel. I can't include any tracks with synthetic surfaces.

Helotes, TX:
What was the most exciting Belmont that you ever saw and why?

Last year's, because of the boy vs. girl angle, and it was just a gut-wrencher to the wire, with the filly winning despite stumbling at the start. That was as game a performance as I've seen, especially considering what Curlin has gone on to become. What no Affirmed and Alydar you ask? To be honest, I was in England for the English Derby and Royal Ascot and never saw it live. In the Daily Telegraph, at the very end of their racing story, was a line that read.."And in America, Affirmed beat Alydar by a nose to win the Triple Crown." That's how I found out that result. Of course, looking at it many times since, it has to be one of the great races of all time. And the Birdstone-Smarty Jones Belmont had more excitement before and during the race than any race I've ever seen.

Brick, NJ:
Considering Smarty Jones, Funny Cide, War Emblem,Charismatic and Curlin all lost to fresh horses in the Belmont-do you think Big Brown will have a tough time holding off both Casino Drive and Denis of Cork?

In other words, do I like Big Brown to win the Belmont? The first three you mentioned were speed-type horses. The key to the Belmont is relaxing and all three didn't relax. Charismatic peaked in the Preakness after getting on roll during a long campaign, and he broke down in the Belmont. Curlin, in my opinion, also peaked in the Preakness and Asmussen didn't train him hard for the Belmont. Big Brown can relax and I don't believe he has peaked. He can win by 15 and it wouldn't surprise me. But I also believe a horse like Denis of Cork is better than people think and could run a big race. Casino Drive is an unknown quantity. We have no idea how good he is.

Rosholt, SD:
What type of sire do you think Big Brown will be. He is from a speed favoring sire out of a female line that has the big heart and lungs. I think that Big Brown will be a so so sire but an excellent broodmare sire.

You're way too far ahead of me. I haven't even looked beyond the Belmont, never mind how good a broodmare sire he's going to be. I see no reason why he shouldn't be a good sire and broodmare sire. There's plenty of terrific inbreeding in his pedigree, and if he can transit even a fraction of his class to go along with the Boundary speed and Nureyev's heart he'll do just fine at stud.

Bellmore, NY:
Thanks for taking questions today. I always enjoy your forums. One question, and it could just be that I missed an article about it on bloodhorse if there ever was one, but what happened to Midnight Lute?

Midnight Lute had a minor setback, so Baffert freshened him up and he will start back in training next week. He should be ready to run in August. Baffert said he looks fantastic, and has grown and is now 17 hands.

Springfield PA:
Steve was it always this way or is this a new trend, in the last couple of years when a horse has run once like Big Brown and Curlin and is bought by a an offer-you-can't-refuse conglomerate stable ,then they retire the horse before we get the enjoyment of racing as a 4YO. I’m sure there are many examples of such a deal buying a horse after 1 good race as a 2YO and not winning the Derby.

Yes, there are many deals that don't work and yes, it is a new trend, started by Darley/Godolphin back in the late 90s. Most of their purchases have been duds, with the exception of Discreet Cat. If you're a smaller trainer and train for a smaller owner, you better be prepared to train and nurture a good horse and get him to the races and then say goodbye to him if he breaks his maiden impressively. It's sad and not fair to trainers like Helen Pitts, but it's all about the money now.

Dearborn, MI:
Dr. Fager was built like a rangy stayer what made him so incredibly fast?

Dr. Fager wasn't built like anyone or anything. He had his own look. He was tall and not heavily muscled like a sprinter, but his sire Rough n'Tumble was speed, and his dam Aspidistra also produced Ta Wee, one of the great sprinters of all time, so the speed was there in his pedigree. But basically Dr. Fager was fast — faster than any horse I've ever seen — because he was a freak, and I mean a true freak. Thats a word that gets used a lot these days. But he was one, in every conceivable way. You didn't analyze a horse like Dr. Fager you just stood in awe of him.

Hi Steve, Since I respect your insight and opinion and I have heard far too much debating on the subject, I figured I was very curious to know YOUR opinion on this. Talk is going around about a potential match race between Curlin and Big Brown. While I think Big Brown is a very talented horse, I think Curlin is better. I don't think Big Brown has faced the test of horses that Curlin has faced and he is still so young into his career that he has yet to face the likes of Curlin. Personally I didn't see a stellar class of horses leading up to the Derby this year as we have seen in past years. Also, I have heard people say that Big brown's Preakness was more impressive than Curlin's, Bernardini's, and Alfeet Alex's. I can discount the first two but Cmon...Afleet Alex didn't run the fastest final because he almost buried his nose in the dirt! I think his `Preakness was one of the most amazing I have personally ever seen. How about you? And back to my original question...who do you think is the better horse? The mighty Curlin or Big Brown?? Thanks so much!!!! :-)

I'm sure if you've been reading this chat, you will have already found your answer. I can't compare a 3-year-old in May to a 4-year-old in May. After the Belmont I'll have a better idea how Big Brown stacks up against Curlin. Why can't they both be great horses without trying to figure out who is better. Hopefully, they'll meet later in the year and we'll find out. Let them prove it on the racetrack. As for Afleet Alex, that was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in 40 years. Truly one of the great moments in racing history as far as I'm concerned.

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