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See you at the races

For people who like any kind of racing the way I do, this is an exciting time of year, with the Triple Crown and the NASCAR Cup Chase both shaping up.

Though motorsports track attendance is falling off because of the rising cost of getting to races, the grandstands were packed at Talladega last Sunday. Logistical challenges offered by this track always make drivers sweat and fans lick their lips with anticipation. I've been watching the Latino drivers battling to make their mark in a sport that's still very "white," and the battles of drivers coming over from other areas of racing and trying to adjust. 'Dega didn't disappoint on either front.

Race after race, Juan Pablo Montoya, coming over from Formula One, is finally hitting his stride in that bright-yellow Juicy Fruit car. At Talladega, he got shuffled to the back in the draft several times, but always came beating and banging his way to the front again, and actually led for one lap. As the lead cars peeled out of turn 4 for the final straightaway, Montoya was right on leader Kyle Busch's bumper, and his fans had a heart-stopping moment of thinking that JP might just win this thing. This 2nd was his best finish on a superspeedway track. Ole Juan Pablo!

Meanwhile, it's four more days to the Derby, and Big Brown touched off a media frenzy when he arrived at Churchill Downs. Armies of photogs were hanging over the rail as he did his first work. You just can't help noticing this big colt -- he's really special, athletic and powerful and long-striding, with that great attitude of his, and that hair-raising turn of foot. But there are questions about Big Brown -- his inexperience and his chronic hoof problems, not to mention his trainer's public displays of overconfidence, which have raised eyebrows in a sport where anything can go wrong at a moment's notice.

I also like Gayego, the bargain-basement Cuban-owned colt. His gritty win at the Arkansas Derby shows that he can stay towards the front at a quick pace, and still find more to get in front or hold off challenges. His Brazilian trainer Paulo Lobo has a mild and unassuming attitude, and isn't given to tempting Lady Luck by statements about how good his horse is. -- Patricia Nell Warren