For the most part, Rick Dutrow has kept a low profile since Big Brown's inexplicable last-place finish in the Belmont Stakes nearly two months ago.
The time has arrived for Big Brown's return — in Sunday's $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park — and the trainer was chattering again this week. While exuding his usual confidence, Dutrow's tone was far from boastful.
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“From what happened in his last start, it's kind of hard to feel as confident as I was for the Derby and those other races,” Dutrow said. “But I feel as confident as I can be that he's going to run his race.”
Big Brown was made the 1-2 favorite in the field of seven 3-year-olds entered Thursday. His chief competition could come from 4-1 second choice Cool Coal Man, trained by Nick Zito, who played the spoiler's role in the Belmont when his Da' Tara pulled an upset.
“Big Brown is the story and rightfully so, and we hope our horses come to play and see what happens,” Zito said.
Zito will also send out Coal Play, with the rest of the field comprised of Alaazo, Atoned, Magical Forest and Nistle's Crunch.
There's an outside chance Big Brown could run next in the Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 23, but the decision won't be made until after the Haskell. The main goal, of course, is the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.
The Haskell, at 11⁄8 miles, is the top race of the Monmouth Park season.
Ken McPeek, who trains Nistle's Crunch, said other than Big Brown the field is wide open.
“If Big Brown is not on his A game, we obviously want to be there to pick up the pieces,” McPeek said. “As the Belmont showed, anything can happen.”