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There are many reasons to root for Casino Drive

Jun 3, 2008 7:01 PM

Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein | Let me take a minute to tell you why Iíll be rooting against Big Brown come Saturdayís Belmont Stakes.

Itís not because I donít think heís a great horse.

Itís not because I donít choose to cast a vote for Rick Dutrowís past.

Itís not because I donít wish Robert Clay the best for his $60 million bucks he is paying for Big Brownís breeding rights.

It is because I happen to like underdogs with a shot, and I think Casino Drive has a chance to upset the Unbeatable One.

It is because the colt has the breeding to win the Belmont, and because I think racing writers have seriously overlooked and underplayed the fact that his mother, Better Than Honour, has incredibly produced the last two Belmont winners, Jazil in 2006 and the filly Rags to Riches last year, and is going for a truly unimaginable triple with Casino Drive. The chances of one broodmare being good enough to produce two, and possibly three, Belmont winners in a row is one of the most remarkable breeding feats in racing.

It is because I have become enchanted by the gracious and refined responses of Nubutaka Tada, the racing manager for Casino Driveís owner, Hidetoshi Yamamoto, to questions from the press. In a day when sports figures lack grace, Tada radiates it, and his polite demeanor, in contrast with the blarney of Dutrow, is refreshing.

He acknowledges the awesome nature of Big Brownís victories, and smiles the legendary inscrutable smile of the Orient when explaining the relaxed training regimen of Casino Drive. "We warm up. We cool down. We are never in a hurry. We try to make sure he is a happy horse" Ė Youíve got to like a guy so in total command of things as Tada.

Bottom line, however, I cannot root for Big Brown because of his owner, Michael Iavarone, and all that has been reported about him. If true, a guy who pretends he is something other than what he is doesnít deserve what Iavarone has fallen into.

When confronted, facts of what media loves to gently call "his checkered past," he tries to slip and slither away like an eel.

He says the report that he went to UCLA, which was untrue, was a mistake.

He said his claim that he worked for Goldman Sachs, which he did not, was an oversight.

He said a $20,000 debt to the Showboat, settled when the casino sued, was because someone else signed a marker with his name.

He walked away from buying a half million dollars worth of horses at Keeneland, later paid for after another suit, because he didnít like the condition of the horses.

He had a $130,000 lien placed against him for unpaid taxes by the IRS four years ago. What could he possibly say about that? A poor memory?

He completely ignored the fact that a former trainer, Greg Martin, was charged with race fixing at Aqueduct, with a horse Iavarone had owned.

More recently, but troubling for totally different reasons, is his announcement that Gary Stevens has signed on as Senior Advisor of Racing and Bloodstock Affairs at IEAH, Iavaroneís ambitious racing enterprise currently promoting a $100 million investment partnership in horse acquisition and management. A question arises: will Gary preface all future on the air comments with a disclaimer when talking about Big Brown, mentioning that he is employed by the horseís owner?

That possibility is not likely to be necessary, of course, because despite Rick Dutrowís talk about taking on Curlin and other older horses, people who put up $60 million, or whatever the number, for breeding rights are not foolish enough to risk the investment if Big Brown wins the Belmont, as expected. Why would they? The racing public will have seen the last of Big Brown on the race track if he wins the mile and a half classic and becomes the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed.

So, for all of those reasons, I will watch Saturdayís Belmont, along with more than a hundred thousand others at Belmont and tens of millions on television, with mixed emotions.

And with best wishes to the tactful Japanese.

I didnít root for Admiral Yamamoto after Pearl Harbor or in the Battle of Midway, but Iíll root for this Yamamoto Hidetoshi, to win with his bred-for-the-Belmont colt.