Big Brown bears down on the turf

OCEANPORT, N.J. — Bring on Curlin! That's all the owners of Big Brown want in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Big Brown put another exclamation point on a magnificent 3-year-old season and set up a potential showdown against reigning Horse of the Year Curlin with a front-running victory over older horses in the $500,000 Monmouth Stakes on Saturday at Monmouth Park.

"I can't wait to run against Curlin," Big Brown co-owner Michael Iavarone said. "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 on Sept. 27, but majority owner Jess Jackson has not committed to running the 4-year-old in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita in California.

Big Brown simply refused to lose in his final tuneup for the Classic. The colt opened a big early lead and then held off a determined stretch challenge by Proudinsky to win by a neck for his seventh victory in eight starts.

"If the Breeders' Cup were today, he would be ready," jockey Kent Desormeaux said. "He has come full circle since whatever happened in the Belmont Stakes."

That was the race in which Big Brown was eased trying to win the Triple Crown. The colt returned in August and won the Haskell Invitational here, and followed that with Saturday's Monmouth Stakes victory.

Big Brown covered the 11⁄8 miles in 1:47.41 in the second turf race of 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," Desormeaux said. "He is multitalented. He just loves to be a racehorse. 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."

Desormeaux hustled Big Brown out of the No. 4 post 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 3 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," 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."