Big Brown refused to lose his final prep race for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner opened a big early lead and then held off a determined challenge by Proudinsky the entire length of the stretch to capture the $500,000 Monmouth Stakes by a neck on Saturday.
It was the 3-year-old colt's seventh victory in eight starts and it has the potential to set up a spectacular Breeders' Cup Classic _ Big Brown against Curlin, last year's Horse of the Year.
"I can't wait to run against Curlin," said Big Brown co-owner Michael Iavarone. "If he's gonna show up, he should show up in the Breeders' Cup. That's where we are going to be. That would be a great place for us to run against each other."
Curlin is set to run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont later this month.
The Breeders' Cup Classic is Oct. 25 at Santa Anita in California.
The Monmouth Stakes on the turf was a pretty good race in its own right.
Big Brown covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.41 in returning to the grass for the second time in his career. Unlike the romp in his first grass start, Big Brown was all out to win in his first race against older horses.
Proudinsky just missed collaring Big Brown on the outside, and Shakis was another half length back on the inside.
"He just doesn't care what is under his feet," jockey Kent Desormeaux said. "He is multitalented. He just loves to be a race horse. He doesn't like getting beat. He showed that true grit and determination down the lane. For me, as a rider, it just felt like he had that horse tow roped. He was just dragging him home."
Big Brown, trained by Rick Dutrow, paid $3.20, $2.60 and $2.20 as the 3-5 favorite in the field of nine. Proudinsky paid $3 and $2.40, while Shakis finished third and was worth $2.80 for show.
Iavarone and Monmouth Park general manager Bob Kulina walked the turf course Saturday morning and afternoon with Robert Clay, the owner of Three Chimneys Farm where Big Brown will retire to stud later this year, just to make sure it was OK after being soaked by overnight rains.
Iavarone was satisfied with its condition, which was listed as good.
"We had nothing to worry about," Iavarone said. "He did his thing today."
The win was Big Brown's second straight at Monmouth Park after his disaster in the Belmont Stakes. The son of Boundary got up in the final strides to win the Haskell Invitational on Aug. 3 and he was just as hard pressed to win the Monmouth Stakes on Saturday, although it was a front-running effort this time.
Before being eased in the Belmont, Big Brown had romped to victory in all his other races. Things are tougher now.
Desormeaux hustled Big Brown out of the No. 4 post position and the only horse to go with him was long shot Get Serious.
Big Brown, who carried 120 pounds, quickly opened a two-length lead and cruised down the backstretch easily as the field started to come at him.
By the final turn, there were about six horses within three lengths of the lead with Proudinsky and jockey Ramon Dominguez only a length back. Shakis and jockey Joe Bravo were closing, too.
Several times, Proudinsky, appeared ready to overtake Big Brown on the outside, but the magnificent 3-year-old dug in and refused to let him get past.
"I thought they were going to pass him," a sweat-soaked Dutrow said. "He put in so much effort early on. He's got a lot of heart and determination. Everything good about the racing game we saw today."
Dominguez could not fault his horse.
"I thought I was going to get him in the lane, but once (Big Brown) felt me to his side, he just dug in. He kicked right back in and dug in all the way to the finish. We got up to his head and he just fought right back."
The effort was appreciated by the 17,047 fans who attended the Monmouth Park card and cheered as Big Brown came back to the winner's circle.
It was well deserved.
"The way he dug down this afternoon showed his true heart and his true courage," Iavarone said.
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