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Belmont seeming more and more like 1-horse race

The Baltimore Sun

If you're looking for a dissenting voice in the clamor about the history Big Brown is about to make, don't go looking for it near the jockey scales area at Pimlico Race Course.

Just listen to Jeremy Rose, third aboard Icabad Crane yesterday, when a question to him immediately after the Preakness rout began, "It's been 30 years since the last Triple Crown winner ... "

"Yeah," Rose interjected, "it was 30 years."

Rose, the Preakness winner aboard Afleet Alex three years ago (and Big Brown's jockey in his maiden race last year), ought to know as well as anyone. So should any of the 11 riders chasing second place yesterday. So should anyone who has ever saddled up for a race and seen from in the midst of the battle what America saw yesterday from a safe but antiseptic distance.

No living, breathing being is beating Big Brown. Only an act of God, or a balky starting gate or a soft spot on his dirt on the Belmont track, can keep the winner of the first two legs of the Triple Crown from closing the deal three Saturdays from now.

Apparently, there's something about seeing it up close that makes the argument stronger, that negates the hype and makes the eyes pop even more in awe of what's going on. After two weeks of concern about how noncompetitive the Preakness field was, the Kentucky Derby winner teased his challengers, then from the final turn on, reduced them to slack-jawed spectators.

When the jockey of the lead horse gets to watch himself on the big infield screen as he approaches the finish line, you know you can forget the winner's circle.

That seems to be why, in the heat of the post-race emotions, you couldn't find a fellow rider who thought the horses or jockeys at the Belmont would fare any better than they just had.

"No, it was no surprise to me," said Tyler Baze, ninth on Tres Borrachos after stumbling badly out of the gate. "That's the Triple Crown winner. Sure is, if he can win that easily."

Said Edgar Prado, on Riley Tucker: "He ran well, but we just couldn't keep up with Big Brown." Prado was the last one to keep up, before Big Brown went past Riley Tucker as if he were standing still.

The lone dissenter, if he even can be called that? Julien Leparoux, on Macho Again, who barely overtook Icabad Crane at the wire for second.

"I saw Smarty Jones," he said. "Nobody was picking against him in the Belmont, and he got beat. We all think [Big Brown] might win, but you never know what might happen. We've seen some very good horses before, and they didn't get the Triple Crown."

But this horse you just saw, this one that just looks different, not just in motion but walking around the other horses - is he different? Leparoux couldn't sugarcoat it.

"I think so," he said, then laughed and turned toward the paddock. "I don't want to say. I don't want to jinx it."

Everybody is running out of excuses for Big Brown to lose - even faster than people ran out of ways the New England Patriots could have lost in the Super Bowl. Which, of course, the Patriots did, so factor that in.

In the days leading up to the race, trainer Rick Dutrow offered one possibility: Big Brown might not do well with just two weeks' rest, and if he did, then with just three weeks' after that. That wasn't him trying to rein his blustery personality in, either; it was a legitimate concern.

But those concerns evaporated like the gap between Big Brown and the lead as they made that turn. Now, Dutrow said, all he has to do in New York is not "[mess] anything up." "I'm not afraid of a mile and a half. I'm not afraid of five weeks, three races," he said.

Nor does he seem perturbed about a fresh, rested field of opponents at the Belmont.

If Dutrow isn't scared, everybody else should be.

"After he did this today - he won by [5 1/4 lengths]," Rose said. "If he runs a mile and a half, he wins by more than [that]."

He, and everyone else who saw Big Brown off in the distance down the stretch, ought to know.

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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