ELMONT, N.Y. - Was this some ultimate trash talk from Big Brown trainer Rick Dutrow?
"I had people calling me last night telling me he's going to scratch," Dutrow said of Casino Drive, the horse shipped in from Japan who is supposed to be Big Brown's chief threat in today's Belmont Stakes. "I heard it again this morning."
"I just think he's got issues," Dutrow added.
Only half the rumors you hear at the racetrack turn out to be true, but this wasn't mere talk from Dutrow. Far from it. His tip panned out, for the most part. Casino Drive wasn't scratching,
But the colt does have issues.
"We are not 100 percent happy with the movement in his hind leg, his left hind," announced Nobutaka Tada, racing manager for Casino Drive's owner, after the Belmont media horde left Dutrow's barn and walked the couple of hundred yards to stake out Casino Drive's barn.
At 6 last night, Tada came to the press box and provided a general update.
"He's OK," Tada said. "He's doing well. We haven't scratched him. We expect him to run."
Tada said they think Casino Drive had a small stone bruise in his hoof. They didn't take the Peter Pan Stakes winner to the track to gallop, as planned, but weren't planning to scratch him, he said, and wouldn't unless the situation worsened.
"It all depends on how he moves tomorrow morning," Tada said. "This morning, we are not 100 percent happy with the movement in his hind leg. We didn't like the way he walked."
A stone bruise means Casino Drive could have bruised the hoof by stepping on a stone or some other small object. It could have happened five or six days ago and just appeared now, Tada said. The horse had taken 45- to 60-minute walks around the Belmont Park barn area before and after his gallops every morning.
Tada, who has heard Dutrow disparaging his horse all week, also said: "Somebody scratched my horse - but I haven't."
Nobody missed this irony, though - how Casino Drive is the one with the foot problems now, after all the pre-Belmont headlines had been about Big Brown's infamous quarter crack, which was patched over yesterday.
Hoof specialist Ian McKinlay, who has been working on Big Brown's hoof since the Friday after the Preakness, said of the hoof: "It's going to be perfect." He went so far as to guarantee it, saying he wasn't even planning to come to the racetrack today. He'd watch on television with his family.
McKinlay explained that the fiberglass and acrylic patch would be good for three or four months, and that there was no danger in its coming undone during the race.
"If that patch comes off in this race, I might as well quit what I'm doing," he said.
McKinlay added that Big Brown, who is trying to become the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years, "looks fabulous. If he gets beat, it's going to be some race."
Edgar Prado, slated to ride Casino Drive today in just his third career start, was on the horse for the first time Thursday morning, when Casino Drive breezed. Prado said the horse had been fine. However, he hasn't had a real breeze in a month.
"Maybe now we'll be on even ground with Big Brown," Prado said of the competing hoof problems.
But McKinlay had the last word after he patched the favored horse's hoof.
"Everything looked perfect," he said. "Things couldn't be better. It's time for history."