A Gallop Poll with No Margin of Error:

by Jim Wells

Will Big Brown start a new era for racing, much as Secretariat did in the 1970s when he was the first of three Triple Crown winners that decade?
Will Big Brown do something in the Belmont that no horse has done since Affirmed finished off the remarkable decade in 1978?
Or will Big Brown suffer that fate of so many other horses this decade that went into Elmont, N.Y. with a chance at making racing history but came up short. Will Big Brown’s quarter crack become the pin in the hoof that Bud Delp claimed kept Spectacular Bid from becoming the 1970s fourth Triple Crown winner.
Here are the thoughts of some jockeys and veteran employees at Canterbury Park who participated in the track’s Gallop Poll:
Stall superintendent Mark Stancato is hopeful.
“Oh, man. As a fan of the game I would love to see a 30-year thing come to an end, but a mile and 1/2 is a stumbling block for many a fine horse,” he said. “I guess I’m rooting for him, but expecting the worst. I wouldn’t be surprised if Casino Drive gets to the wire first.”
There is a smaller bit of history to be made even if Casino Drive beats the heavily favored Big Brown. Casino Drive was foaled by Better Than Honour. Therein lies an interesting aspect to the race. Better Than Honour is also dam to Rags to Riches, who in 2007 became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes, and to Jazil, the 2006 winner. A dam producing three consecutive Belmont winners would also claim a place in racing history. Big Brown, of course, will have to overcome factors other than the competition’s immediate female bloodline. “I think this will be his toughest test to date,” said Stancato. “A mile and 1/2 changes everything.”
Clerk of course and placing judge Peggy Davis is reserving judgment on Big Brown’s place in racing history, even if he were to win the Belmont.
It is her view that a horse needs to run more than four or five times among other factors before wearing the mantle of greatness. “He’s a really nice horse,” she said. “If he wins the Belmont in 2:24, then we can talk about true greatness. The last great horse we had was Cigar. There have been a number of horses with great potential, but we needed to see more of them.” The reference to “2:24” is to Secretariat’s time in 1973 when he won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths.
Jockey Jason Lumpkins says that Big Brown has what it takes.
Lumpkins has a connection to the race and to Big Brown. He rode at one time for the father to Big Brown’s trainer. “Dick Dutrow, Sr. helped get me started. I rode some for him in New York,” Lumpkins said. As for big Brown, Lumpkins has been truly impressed and says it will take some bad racing luck for him to lose his bid for the Triple Crown. “His acceleration from the quarter pole to the wire in the Kentucky Derby was phenomenal. He couldn’t have won the Derby any easier, and he couldn’t have won the Preakness any easier,” Lumpkins said. “And he has Kent Desormeaux riding, another good thing.” Many Big Brown supporters are uneasy about the quarter crack he developed during training for the race.
Owner Cam Casby is among those concerned.
“It will be nice if he wins, but I truly hope he can finish in one piece.”
The nature of the crack will be the critical factor, some believe.
“He could get beat if he truly has a bad one,” said clerk of scales Jerry Simmons.
“It depends on the severity,” said jockey agent Richard Grunder.
“I hope he can, but that can be a painful injury,” said trainer Mike Biehler. “Maybe he’s a horse that can run with pain.”
Trainer Doug Oliver knows a bit about quarter cracks.
“Big Brown’s the best horse in the race, no doubt. We’ll see if the quarter crack bothers him. Bleu Victoriate seemed to pop a quarter crack every time we raced him, and he earned around $280,000 for us,” Oliver said.
Trainer Justin Evans says that Casino Drive is the only horse that can beat Big Brown, but wonders now if that’s possible after Casino workouts this week failed to impress him.
Racing secretary Doug Schoepf got the final word in the poll of Big Brown’s chances.
“I hope we get a Triple Crown winner and I say we will,” he said. “This horse can win just about anyway you care to name, from the front, from behind, by circling the field from the No. 20 hole.”
And the quarter crack debate?
“The trainer knows what he’s doing,” Schoepf said. “I don’t think there’s any way he’ll run him if there is any danger of a problem.”

HOW TO HAVE A NICE WEEKEND

Trainer Jamie Ness was at Canterbury Park last weekend but some of his horses weren’t. They were competing at other tracks, helping support the stable. Polynesian Kitty went north to Assiniboia Downs in Canada and won a $50,000 stakes for owner Bradly Butcher. The winning share of that pot was $30,000 or $30,195 U.S. currency. “The dollar has bounced back a bit,” Ness said. Jake Olesiak was the winning rider, just as he was one race earlier on Nicandro, also from Ness’s barn, in an allowance race worth $5,160 to the winner or $5,194 U.S. currency. The winning owner was Dan Kjorsvik.
Now shift to Prairie Meadows Racetrack in Iowa. Denouncer’s Gal was a winner there, with Alex Birzer up, in a $17,500 allowance race. The winning share in Iowa was $10,500, the same as in U.S. currency. Tim Rosin was the winning owner. Ness’s assistants accompanied the horses. Cory Jensen was at Assiniboia Downs. Cody Rosin was at Prairie Meadows. “Thank God for those guys,” Ness said. “They let me stay here and take care of business.”

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