No easy road for Big Brown
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown isn't going to have a walkover in his final prep race for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin believes his 8-year-old Shakis is going to keep Big Brown out of the winner's circle when the two face nine rivals in the $500,000 Monmouth Stakes on the turf at Monmouth Park on Saturday.
Big Brown, who will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux, drew the No. 4 post position. Shakis will start at No. 3.
"We're very confident, or we wouldn't be running," McLaughlin said. "We're not running just to fill the race, we're running to win the race, and we feel like we can win the race."
While Big Brown was an impressive winner in his only grass start a year ago, McLaughlin noted that the 3-year-old will be taking on older horses for the first time in preparation for next month's Classic at Santa Anita, Calif.
"I loved his first race at Saratoga on the turf, so there's no doubt he turfs very well," McLaughlin said of Big Brown. "But going from a maiden race as a 2-year-old to run against older horses, right now I think that we have a good chance to beat him, and it's $500,000, so let's go give it a try.
"He's a top horse, a great horse, but you know he tends to get out a little bit in his races, and we'll have to see how the turf goes, and how the race sets up. But I like our chances."
McLaughlin noted that Shakis, the 7-2 second choice, is a good turf horse who loves the 1 1-8 mile distance in the Monmouth Stakes.
Trainer Rick Dutrow said Big Brown will surprise a lot of people with his turf ability, and it won't make a difference whether he is racing older horses. He is the 2-1 morning-line favorite.
"I don't care who's up to challenge him, he's a very, very good horse, he's better on the grass," said Dutrow, who has guided Big Brown to wins in six of seven career starts. "So I really don't care who shows up for the race. You know we're just going to take whatever comes, and if (Brown) shows up, I'm sure everybody will love watching him run."
Dutrow said part of the reason for racing Big Brown on the grass is health-related.
"When I put him on the grass, I don't even put bandages on him," Dutrow said. "Plus, the fact that he's got the tender feet -- and we want to keep him on grass as much as possible. It's so much easier to keep him on his natural surface."
Dutrow also wanted Big Brown to have 40 days between his start on Saturday and the Classic. The colt last raced on Aug. 3, getting up in the final strides to win the Haskell Invitational here. It was his first start since being eased in the Belmont Stakes in June.
Shakis recently won the $200,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap on the turf at Saratoga for the second straight year. The Irish-bred son of Machiavellian will be ridden by Joe Bravo on Saturday.
Although the Monmouth Stakes is an ungraded event, Big Brown will face other good competition.
Silver Tree is an 8-year-old who won or placed in eight of his last nine starts, including a win on Aug. 3 in the Oceanport Stakes here. The Bill Mott trainee is a six-time graded stakes winner. Eddie Castro will ride the 6-1 choice.
Another multiple graded stakes winner looking to pull an upset is Gary Tanaka's Proudinsky, the 4-1 third choice. Trained by Bobby Frankel, the German-bred 5-year-old won the Mervin Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap on the Fair Grounds turf in March. Ramon Dominguez will ride.
Here is the field for the race from the rail out with horse, weight, jockey and odds:
Nightscape, 119, Emilio Flores, 30-1; Hotstufanthensome, 119, Jose Lezcano, 12-1; Shakis, 121, Bravo, 7-2; Big Brown, 120, Desormeaux, 2-1; Kiss the Kid, 119, Elvis Trujillo, 10-1; Proudinsky, 119, Dominguez, 4-1; Drum Major, 119, Kendrick Carmouche, 8-1; Get Serious, 119, Pablo Fragoso, 15-1; Fagedaboudit Sal, 121, Pedro L. Cotto Jr., 30-1; Ballonenostrikes, 119, Daniel Centeno, 20-1; Silver Tree, 121, Castro, 6-1.
Post time is scheduled for 4:48 p.m.