Casino Drive has bruised hoof but remains entered in Belmont

Updated: June 7, 2008, 12:53 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Casino Drive has a bruised hoof, but there are no plans to scratch the Japanese horse from Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

The Peter Pan Stakes winner skipped his morning workout Friday after his trainer noticed Casino Drive wasn't walking normally.

"We are not 100 percent happy with the movement of the hind leg," said Nobutaka Tada, racing manager for Casino Drive's Japanese connections. "We haven't withdrawn him, just giving him an easy day."

Casino Drive is the early second choice behind Triple Crown favorite Big Brown. Big Brown is trying to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1978.

Tada said a veterinarian saw the horse, whose hoof was being treated with ice and heat. Casino Drive is listed as questionable for the race.

"He probably stepped on something," Tada said. "He looks fine, he has a good appetite. He's not lame."

Tada said Casino Drive may have a stone bruise, which can be caused by walking on hard, rocky ground. The colt has been walked all over Belmont Park's horse paths this week, a training technique favored by the Japanese. American trainers typically gallop or jog their horses on the track in the days leading to a race.

Tada said Casino Drive would be examined again Friday. He acknowledged there's a slight possibility the colt may not run Saturday, and a decision to race him will depend on his condition. Horses entered in the Belmont may be scratched up to 45 minutes before the 6:25 p.m. ET post time.

However, Tada said, "If he stays like this, there's no reason to stop him. At the moment, we are not thinking of scratching."

Meanwhile, Big Brown had a patch applied to his cracked hoof Friday. Hoof specialist Ian McKinlay applied an acrylic and fiberglass piece to the left front foot. McKinlay already put a set of steel wires inside the crack and stitched it up.

McKinlay said he isn't concerned about the patch hampering the bay colt's bid for history. He said the procedure was routine, and Big Brown never even knew he was hurt. It sets in five minutes and is "stronger than the hoof itself," he said.

"As far as everything I see, it couldn't be better," McKinlay said Friday morning.

Dozens of reporters stood outside Barn 2 at Belmont on Friday morning, watching Big Brown go through his usual routine.

Big Brown has been the picture of cool this Triple Crown season. He loves to strike a pose for the cameras and saved his best performances for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The only thing that has tried to slow the colt is the quarter crack.

A quarter crack is a vertical crack in the hoof wall between the toe and heel, usually extending into the coronary band, where the hoof meets the skin of the leg. Healing time can range from a few days to a few months, depending on the severity of the crack.

The injury is having about as much luck at stopping Big Brown as the competition. Several veterinarians characterized the quarter crack as innocuous and said racing in Saturday's grueling 1½-mile Belmont shouldn't pose an additional risk to the strapping bay colt.

That's exactly what Team Big Brown wanted to hear.

"I think I'm ready to make history," jockey Kent Desormeaux said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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