'Brown out' lifts Zenyatta's stock

Oct 21, 2008 5:05 PM

Golden Edge by Ed Golden |

Rick Dutrow couldn’t wait to put Big Brown in the gate for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. No wonder. The controvertible conditioner knew the colt’s feet were as susceptible as pretzels at an Oktoberfest, so his muted anxiety was understandable.

Turns out Big Brown didn’t need a trainer. He needed Dr. Scholl.

When it was announced last Monday that Big Brown was retired because of an injury to his right front foot following a turf workout at Aqueduct, it came with no great shock to industry insiders. As Bob Baffert told me, "when a horse that wins the Kentucky Derby and Preakness starts to train and race on grass, people think maybe he wasn’t coming up to the Breeders’ Cup as well as he was to the Derby."

Case closed. What’s open now is speculation as to who will be Horse of the Year. Had Big Brown won this Saturday’s Classic at Santa Anita, his selection would have been irrefutable. Should Curlin win, he would be the leader in the clubhouse.

But if he loses, it could open the door for the filly Zenyatta, should she win the Ladies’ Classic and run her undefeated and uncontested streak to nine. At least that’s an opinion expressed by Jerry Bailey, the retired Hall of Fame rider and seven-time Eclipse Award winner who now earns his keep as analyst for ABC and ESPN, which will telecast Breeders’ Cup 25 from Santa Anita this Friday and Saturday.

Only two females have been named Horse of the Year, Lady’s Secret in 1986 and Azeri in 2002. Neither won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Skywalker won the Classic in 1986, and one-hit wonder Volponi upset Medaglia d’Oro in 2002. Bailey remembers that race well. He rode Medaglia d’Oro, the 5-2 favorite, who lost to $89 winner Volponi by 6 ½ lengths.

"If Curlin runs and wins, he’s Horse of the Year," Bailey said without qualification by phone from his Ft. Lauderdale home. "If Curlin didn’t run, then it would have been more complex, more of a dilemma. As it stands right now, Curlin’s got the edge. If he loses the Classic, I think it might swing in Big Brown’s favor.

"But if Curlin loses the Classic, the voting would depend on how he lost. If he lost in a close photo, or had an excuse because of a troubled trip and appeared best, maybe he would still get Horse of the Year. If he runs and wins, hands down, he’s Horse of the Year. At least that’s my opinion."