From the time of the Kentucky Derby, it was clear that Big Brown would have two chances to prove that he is not just a very good horse but also a great horse. The first went up in flames when he ran abysmally in the Belmont and, therefore, did not become a Triple Crown winner. The second chance is still out there. He must beat the gifted older star Curlin.
Unfortunately, it looks like he may never get the chance. Curlin's owner Jess Jackson wants to win the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and is emphasizing that race over the Breeders' Cup Classic. The Classic is on Big Brown's schedule, but should he merely beat some decent older horses and the usual weak suspects among the 3-year-old crop, no one is going be too impressed.
Then, why not think way, way outside the box? Curlin is out there. Go after him, even if that means a trip to France. The idea isn't as crazy as it may sound at first.
We already know that Big Brown can handle the grass. He's bred for it and he broke his maiden by 11 ¼ lengths on the grass last year at Saratoga. Curlin has never run on the turf, which, unlike Big Brown, makes him suspect on the surface. And, obviously, Big Brown has the quality and class to beat a field of international stars. There's no reason why he couldn't win this race.
Imagine the possibilities: in one fell swoop, he could become the first American horse ever to win Europe's greatest horse race and, in the process, defeat the one horse who stands between him and Horse of the Year and the unofficial title of the world's greatest horse.
He could also erase the label he has been hit with as the poster-horse for racing's chemical era. Unfairly or not, a lot of people believe that Big Brown, with his controversial trainer and his steroid treatments, is a juice horse. He can't run on anything in France and, should he win there, no one can ever again dismiss him of being racing's version of Ben Johnson or Mark McGwire.
There is a tremendous amount to be gained and little to lose.
Don't want to go to Paris? OK, then how about taking Curlin on in whatever grass race he chooses to run in over here? That wouldn't be as sexy as winning the Arc de Triomphe, but a win against Curlin anywhere would go a long way toward bolstering his reputation.
As for Curlin, they don't have to come to Big Brown. Curlin has already been named Horse of the Year, has already won a Breeders' Cup Classic. He's racing's big dog. He has nothing to prove and Big Brown does.
He can go down in history as merely a very good horse who blew it in the most important race of his life. Or he can beat Curlin and prove that he is nothing less than one of the all-time greats. Go for it.
Suffolk Downs new policy
Kudos to Suffolk Downs management for adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward horse slaughter. According to a report in the Thoroughbred Times, Suffolk officials have informed the local chapter of the HBPA that any trainer found to have sold a horse for slaughter will have his stalls revoked and will be denied stalls in the future.
"If a horse goes from here to the slaughterhouse, that's completely unacceptable," vice president of racing Sam Elliott told the Thoroughbred Times. "That trainer won't be here. I don't think that's anybody we'd want to have around. (Track owner Richard Fields) is a strong believer in the retirement idea. He's a big backer of it."
It's no secret that hundreds, if not thousands, of horses over the years have gone straight from small tracks like Suffolk Downs and Mountaineer Park to the slaughterhouse, where they meet a grisly death. The sport has always looked the other way, hoping that this dirty little secret would largely be ignored.
What Suffolk Downs has done is the type of decisive action that racing has to have to cure its long list of woes. Every track in the country should immediately follow Suffolk's lead.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.