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Big Brown on Pace to Capture Triple Crown

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Horse racing may crown a new champion this weekend. The undefeated Big Brown has already dashed to victory in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. If he manages one more win at tomorrow's Belmont Stakes, Big Brown will become the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years.

Steve Haskin is a senior correspondent for The Blood-Horse magazine, and he's been at Belmont Park on Long Island all this week. Hello.

Mr. STEVE HASKIN (The Blood-Horse): Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So how does Big Brown look going into this race?

Mr. HASKIN: Well, other than the crack in his hoof that he suffered last week, he looks fantastic, and the crack itself is such a non-issue. It's healing perfectly. His hoof specialist says that there is absolutely nothing wrong with his foot right now. It will not affect him whatsoever.

His trainer, Rick Dutrow, feels the horse is in good shape now and looks as good now as he did going into the Kentucky Derby. He worked the other day, and he just was as smooth as can be. He's just an amazing horse. He just goes out there and does everything you want him to.

MONTAGNE: Well, there must be a fair amount of people holding their breath at this moment because there have been several Triple Crown contenders that have come so close, only to lost at Belmont. What are the challenges at Belmont?

Mr. HASKIN: Well number one, it's the mile-and-a-half distance of the race. Our horses are not geared to run a mile and a half, and most of them aren't even bred to run a mile and a half, and you know, a lot of horses that have been trying to win the Triple Crown after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, they really weren't in the caliber of some of the great horses who have swept the Triple Crown, and it's a lot harder now, because nowadays when a horse wins the Derby and the Preakness, they're up against a lot of fresh horses, whereas in the past a lot of the horses who ran in the Derby and the Preakness will come back into Belmont.

MONTAGNE: And the competition in this race, especially there's a Japanese horse thought to be his main competition, a horse by the name of Casino Drive.

Mr. HASKIN: Right. Well that's, you know, he's another mystery horse, just like Big Brown was a mystery horse going into the Kentucky Derby with only three starts. Casino Drive is coming into the Belmont off of only two starts, which is unheard of. No horse has ever done that.

And for him to come here after winning his first start of his life in Japan, come here two-and-a-half months later and run in a Grade Two state with Peter Pan, they weren't even expecting much. They just wanted a nice, good prep for the Belmont Stakes, and he won the race by almost six lengths in very fast time and looked terrific doing it.

MONTAGNE: So what do you think? Is Big Brown going to take it?

Mr. HASKIN: I have to think he is. You know, I keep saying that every time we have a horse trying for the Triple Crown because, you know, you're always hoping. You're hoping this is the one year.

I saw the three Triple Crown winners in the 1970s, but racing fans now who were in their 20s and, you know, early to mid-30s, they've never seen a Triple Crown. So every time one comes up like this, you keep hoping that this is the one, but this horse is so different from the other horses. It's almost like he's been here before. He's actually like an older horse. He's overcome so many things. He's overcome several different kinds of hoof injuries; he's overcome bad post positions; he's overcome his inexperience. No matter what they throw at him, he overcomes it, and you have to think he's going to overcome it this time.

So we keep our fingers crossed, we hope that this is the year. You know, you always like to see a horse enter the pantheon of immortality, and this is the horse that really seems to be deserving of it.

MONTAGNE: Steve Haskin is a senior correspondent for The Blood-Horse magazine. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. HASKIN: My pleasure.

(Soundbite of Music)

MONTAGNE: You can see some dramatic photos of thoroughbreds breaking down, igniting controversies in the thoroughbred racing industry, at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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