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Remember Big Brown?

After he won the Haskell on August 4th -- barely --the horse disappeared from public view. He hadn't shown the fire of his earlier races. The IEAH Stables were clearly worried. His loud-talking trainer Rick Dutrow was talking less. They wanted him, and his problem feet, to get a good rest while they figured out what to do next. Play safe and retire him? Risk his stud career by racing him further? If he broke down or got beat, somebody would be left holding the bag on his big expensive syndication deal. Race him again? If so, where?

Breeders Cup in October? Maybe...but they'd need a good prep race. Dirt? Grass? Poly? Big Brown likes grass. Who could forget his sizzling win on grass at Saratoga last year? And who would ride him? His trainer and Kent Desormeaux had their shouting match after the disastrous Belmont showing, but things got smoothed over.

There was hot interest in a match race with Curlin, but the IEAH shied away from having Brown meet Curlin right now. Finally Monmouth Park made the IEAH an offer they couldn't refuse -- a 1 1/8 mile stakes race on grass created especially for Big Brown and timed as a Breeders Cup prep for him. It came off today, and an international field of good older grass horses with speed showed up to take their poke at The Brown. The place was packed, and fans bought up an entire issue of Big Brown t-shirts. Trainer Dutrow and the IEAH insisted they didn't have to win, just have a good prep. Yeah, right.

In the post parade, the horse looked way better than he had at the Haskell -- relaxed, a few pounds heavier. The punters like the way he looked too -- they sent him off at 3-5.

Instead of the usual strategy -- letting Brown sit off the pace, then launching that cannonball kick -- jockey Desormeaux did the classic frontrunner gambit. He had his horse smoking' way out in front, hoping to burn off the speed. Then he eased off and let the pack take a run at him. But he kept just enough gas in Brown's tank. With the late-charging Proudinsky coming at him, Big Brown dug in with that old fire, and held off the German horse by a neck.

Afterwards he had a good gallop-out -- he looked comfortable and pleased with himself.

So it's Breeder's Cup, here we come. Will The Brown and Curlin finally meet there? Stay tuned. And all of us who like this horse (and Curlin too) will continue to hold our breath for him. -- Patricia Nell Warren