It's not every day that a single trainer qualifies two horses for the $1,000,000 Pepsi North America Cup. It is even more remote a possibility when that trainer has only started two prior horses in any North America Cup. But such is the case for Brian Brown, who not only started two horses in last week's eliminations but saw them both come away victorious.
With the big money riding, Brown is not about to rest on his laurels. That's probably because no trainer wants to go into the biggest race without covering all bases. It's also because for Brown neither horse had an uneventful trip.
Downbytheseaside, considered the better of Brown's two sophomores heading into the eliminations, remained perfect with a victory, but neither Brown nor driver David Miller were happy after the race.
"It seemed like he was waiting on horses in the stretch," said Brown.
Downbytheseaside picks up a new driver this week in Brian Sears, with Miller opting for elimination winner Fear The Dragon instead.
"We've got equipment on him to keep him quiet," said Brown. "But now it appears as if he's too quiet."
The trainer considered multiple equipment changes but then decided he would leave Sears in charge of the situation. "If David were driving the horse I might change a few things," said Brown, "but I asked Brian and he said to leave him the way he is and that he would wake him up if necessary."
As for Fear The Dragon, there were more than a few anxious moments in the final yards of last week's elimination race. "At first I didn't know what happened and I thought he might have hurt himself," said Brown of the mid-stretch incident that saw Fear The Dragon jump over something and nearly go down. "He's never done that before in training or anywhere else, so I was concerned."
Brown inevitablly found out that it was a misplaced head number that had gotten loose early in the race which Fear The Dragon saw and attempted to leap over. Still, moments after Fear The Dragon crossed the finish wire apparently on stride, the "inquiry" sign was posted.
"There's a lot of things that can happen in a race and you would always like the horse to decide the outcome," said Brown, who conceded he was concerned with how the inquiry may work out before the official sign was posted.
With the ability to select post positions, Downbytheseaside opted for post two while Fear The Dragon will start from post four in the Cup, race 12 of 15 on the Saturday Mohawk stakes extravaganza.
The Brown trainees will surround Huntsville, the most impressive of the three elimination winners. His connections had second choice in the picking order and selected number three.
Fear The Dragon and Downbytheseaside are both undefeated as sophomores and Brown hasn't seen enough this year to suggest which is the better of the two.
"Last year when they were training down I always thought that Downbytheseaside was the better of the two," said Brown. "This year Fear The Dragon came back a month earlier and the two have never trained together so I really can't say."
Needless to say, while Brown likes his positions in the Cup he is far from overconfident.
"There are a lot of quality horses in the field and you never know when they mix it up how things will shake out," said Brown. "I have to think that Sports Column (post 5) and Classic Pro (post 6) may want to get involved in the early stages. And Ocean Colony is a pretty nice horse and he drew along the pylons."
Of the three favorites, only Fear The Dragon and Huntsville have raced against each other this year, with Fear The Dragon surprising Huntsville in a 1:49 1/5 mile at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on May 21.
"I would have to say that Fear The Dragon was really sharp that night," said Brown of the decisive victory over Huntsville on that evening.
As for last week's mile, Brown suggested that Fear The Dragon appeared on his way to a 1:49 and small change mile before being grabbed up.
With the top horses now going against each other a much faster race could develop. The 34th North America Cup has all the elements of a great race; top horses, top drivers and most definitely some of the sport's training elite. Clearly Brian Brown's name is among them no matter how this race plays out.