New York The Triple Crown trail is littered with colts whose feet failed them along the way. Less than 24 hours before the biggest horse race in three decades, favorite Big Brown and his Japanese challenger, Casino Drive, took steps in opposite directions.
The cracked hoof that stood between trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.'s big bay colt and the sport's first Triple Crown since 1978 was covered with an acrylic patch Friday, ending a weeklong drama.
No sooner had the glue dried on Big Brown when Casino Drive turned up with a suspect foot that could knock the early second choice out of the Belmont Stakes.
If he's scratched from today's punishing 11â2-mile race, it would eliminate Big Brown's chief rival, the only other undefeated colt in the field and send Dutrow's brimming confidence over the top.
"I don't think Casino Drive has any chance at all," he said. "I think the horse has got his issues."
Of course, that would leave eight other horses to take a shot at Big Brown, the early 2-5 favorite.
At 2-0, Japan-based Casino Drive is coming off a 53â4-length victory in the Peter Pan Stakes nearly a month ago on the same Belmont track.
"Right now, we are in. We expect him to run," said Nobutaka Tada, racing manager for owner Hidetoshi Yamamoto and trainer Kazuo Fujisawa.
Big Brown is seeking to join Seattle Slew (9-0 in 1977) as the only undefeated Triple Crown winners. He's won all five of his races by a combined 39 lengths.
"There's excitement in the air," said Dutrow, who memorably declared that Big Brown winning the Belmont is a "foregone conclusion."
It seemed that way for Spectacular Bid, another horse with the same aura of invincibility, whose attempt at sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont was derailed in 1979 when he stepped on a safety pin the morning of the Belmont.
The pin was still lodged in his hoof when jockey Ron Franklin rode him to a third-place finish.
Big Brown's hoof issue was resolved out of public view, with hoof specialist Ian McKinlay applying an acrylic and fiberglass patch to the colt's front left hoof.
Taking a page from Dutrow's brag book, McKinlay guaranteed his work.
"If that patch comes off in this race, I might as well quit what I'm doing," he said. "There is no shot at that."