The aura of invincibility that had surrounded Big Brown as he strode imperiously through the first two legs of the American Triple Crown and which was burst by his defeat in the Belmont Stakes can now be consigned to the past. True, he was victorious in a $1m race at Monmouth Park, New Jersey, on Sunday night but the manner of his victory was such that the bookmakers lengthened, rather than shortened, his odds for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Instead, in their books for the autumn showdown of champions they tightened up on Henrythenavigator, a horse that had won more narrowly than Big Brown last week but is trained by a man called Aidan O'Brien – now there is invincibility.
Big Brown showed plenty of determination in returning to a winning path in the Haskell Invitational, and had almost two lengths to spare at the line, but it all looked rather hard work for Kent Desormeaux in the saddle.
The winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, who was virtually pulled up when becoming the latest horse to fail in the last leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, outfought the long-time leader, Coal Play, in the race's final yards.
"Big Brown stuck out his neck and went and got them," Desormeaux said. "He showed his true class. He made a lead change and showed another gear. He's back."
Not so, say the bookmakers. Coral eased Big Brown to 5-1, from 4-1, for the Classic, which this year will be run on an artificial surface at Santa Anita, while Henrythenavigator was nipped to 4-1 joint favourite. Last year's Classic winner, Curlin, is the other 4-1 market leader, although he remains a possible for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on 5 October, which would hardly be the perfect prep for a race in California less than three weeks later. Zenyatta is next in the betting, at 8-1, after her Grade Two win at Del Mar on Saturday. Ladbrokes have been even more decisive, cutting O'Brien's colt to 3-1 and easing Big Brown to 8-1.
As a reminder of the importance of the Breeders' Cup to European owners and trainers, Freddie Head yesterday announced a new plan for Sunday's impressive Prix Rothschild winner Goldikova. She is to be campaigned with Santa Anita in mind, although the target has yet to be defined. "There is the Distaff [over nine furlongs, now called the Ladies' Classic], the Filly & Mare Turf, or the Mile," Head said. "We'll see, but she will stick to a mile in Europe. She will go to the Prix du Moulin next [on 7 September], and won't run in the Prix Jacques le Marois."
For Head that means avoiding a confrontation with another of his stable stars, the Prix Jean Prat winner Tamayuz. "I left the choice for the owners, but of course I am happy she will not clash with Tamayuz. The Wertheimers [the owners] had the choice, but said they wanted to go to America. Goldikova is very fast and I wouldn't be afraid of running her over six furlongs."
Head's other Group One performer, Marchand D'Or, will try for a third Prix Maurice de Gheest win at Deauville this Sunday. "He is very well, as well as before the July Cup," Head said.
In hat-trick form at Naas in Ireland yesterday was Johnny Murtagh, fresh from picking up the top jockey award at Glorious Goodwood. With an eye to future success the important win was on Black Bear Island for Ballydoyle in a maiden race.
A full-brother to the 2002 Derby winner, High Chaparral, he was introduced into Epsom betting at 20-1 by Stan James to follow his sibling to glory in 2009.
BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC (Santa Anita, 25 October) Coral: 4-1 Curlin, Henrythenavigator, 5-1 Big Brown, 8-1 Zenyatta, 12-1 Colonel John, 14-1 Casino Drive, Well Armed, 16-1 Commentator, Go Between, Harlem Rocker, Macho Again, Mast Track, New Approach, Pyro.