U.S. return likely for Casino Drive

ELMONT, N.Y. -- We'll be back.

That was the proclamation of the Japanese connections who were forced to scratch Casino Drive from Saturday's Belmont Stakes due to a stone bruise in his left hind foot that was first noticed Friday morning. Casino Drive is by Mineshaft out of the dam Better Than Honour, making him a half-brother to Belmont Stakes winners Jazil (2006) and Rags to Riches (2007).

Casino Drive, who had won both of his starts, including the Grade 2 Peter Pan here on May 10, was the second choice on the Belmont morning line behind Big Brown.

Casino Drive didn't go to the track Friday morning after his connections noticed that he wasn't walking the way he normally does. On Thursday, Casino Drive looked uncomfortable training over a muddy main track, switching his leads several times throughout a slow half-mile blowout. Casino Drive's foot was tubbed periodically Friday in ice water in an attempt to get the heat out of it.

Casino Drive's foot appeared to be doing better Saturday morning, so trainer Kazuo Fujisawa decided to send him to the track for a training session. But after his gallop, Casino Drive's left hind foot was too sensitive, and the decision was made to scratch.

"We found he was uncomfortable," said Nobutaka Tada, who has been the spokesman for the connections of Casino Drive since the horse arrived at Belmont on April 30. "It's very sad for many people who supported us and who cheered us. The horse is all right. I think we made the right decision."

Casino Drive came to America as simply a maiden winner whose pedigree made him an intriguing Belmont Stakes prospect. But he showed that pedigree was not the only thing he had going for him when he powered home to a 5 3/4-length victory in the Peter Pan.

"He proved his ability; we had to give him a chance to challenge the good horses in America," Tada said. "We are proud of Casino Drive."

Tada said Casino Drive would return to Japan on Tuesday, where he would undergo four weeks of quarantine before he could race again. Tada said Casino Drive could eventually return to North America for the Breeders' Cup in late October at Santa Anita. Tada said that due to quarantine issues, a return to North America for a race like the Travers in August would not be feasible.

"We will be back," Tada said. "We'd like to give him another chance. Of course, the Breeders' Cup is one of the options we have."

Tada said that he, Fujisawa, and owner Hidetoshi Yamamoto planned to attend the Belmont and were going to root for Big Brown to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

"I'd like to see Big Brown do it for racing," Tada said. "He's a nice horse."