Monday, May 19, 2008

The Triple Crown is Alive Yet Again

For the fourth time in the last seven years (but first since 2004), horse racing has its first shot at a Triple Crown winner heading into the Belmont Stakes. Big Brown (the horse, not the truck) won the Preakness Saturday in commanding fashion against what was widely considered to be a field of sacrificial lambs. So, the question is, will Big Brown be able to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in '78? Or will he go the route of Real Quiet ('98), Charismatic ('99), War Emblem ('02), Funny Cide ('03) and Smarty Jones ('04) and fail in the Belmont?

The closest any of those horses got to winning the Belmont was Real Quiet, who lost by a nose, and Smarty Jones, who lost by a length. Considering Charasmatic was leading in the final furlong and then broke his leg (and still somehow finished third), it's obviously not easy for a horse to win the Belmont after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

But, I think Big Brown's got a shot. After all, he uses PEDs--you know, performance enhancing drugs. Big Brown's trainer, Rick Dutrow, Jr., confirmed the fact last week to the New York Daily News:
"I give all my horses Winstrol on the 15th of every month," Dutrow told the newspaper. "If (authorities) say I can't use it anymore, I won't."

Winstrol, also known as Stanozolol, is legal in 28 of 38 states with horse racing - including Kentucky, Maryland and New York, where the final race in the triple crown, the Belmont Stakes, will be contested next month.
So, like Barry Bonds before him, the great stallion lumbers along towards history. Much has been made of a horse from Japan named Casino Drive that is entered in the Belmont and is expected to challenge Big Brown. Here's Dutrow's take on how his horse matches up with the Japanese import:

"All the Japanese people...thought Godzilla was dead,” he said. “They’re going to find out he’s not dead. He’s here.”
Dutrow also loves his horse. LOVES him:

"Look at him," Dutrow said to NBC reporter Bob Neumeier. "He's in between two ponies. He loves it."

Dutrow cackled.

"He's like me at Scores!"
One thing's for sure: Dutrow's not short on confidence.

One big problem for Casino Drive is that in Japan, steroids have been banned in horse racing. As they have been in all of Europe, South Africa, Dubai, Australia and in ten states in the U.S. (albeit still legal in those states for "therapeutic purposes").

The same concerns for steroid use among horses seems to be the same as that amongst humans: muscles grow too big for the ligaments, tendons & bones to handle. This is especially worrisome for horses as the size of the bones in a horse's legs are severely disproportionate to the overall size of the horse. It'd be like Barry Bonds playing with tinker toys for legs. (Ok, maybe not that bad, but you get the picture.) As such, catastrophic injury is a legitimate concern. However, Eight Belles suffered just such an injury at the end of the Kentucky Derby, but no steroids or other drugs were found in her system. That doesn't mean that she hadn't had those drugs injected into her in the past, but her trainer, Larry Jones, has been vehenement in his denials that he never uses any PEDs on his horses. Catastrophic injuries are part of horse racing; Eight Belles proved that. But does it make sense to possibly exacerbate the problem by introducing outside influences such as steroids into the picture? Are the risks worth the possible reward?

Rick Dutrow thinks so.

One thing Casino Drive's got going for him is that two of his siblings, Rags to Riches and Jazil, won the last two Belmont Stakes. Casino Drive may have only run in two races in his entire career (and only one on U.S. soil, a win), but he's got a hell of a pedigree going for him.

In essence, you've got a steroid-laced colt running wild against all-comers, one of whom has been seemingly bred for the longer length of the Belmont. Big Brown's margin of victory in the Kentucky Derby against a much better field was identical to the one he laid on the weak field at Pimlico: five lengths. So, assuming he doesn't go all Charismatic on us, he's got a good shot at winning the Triple Crown. Unless, of course, Casino Drive goes all Mothra and knocks off Godzilla.

ESPN: Preakness laugher leaves Big Brown in line for glory

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