Hold your horses! Big Brown victory not a sure thing
By: By BETH HARRIS, AP Racing Writer
BALTIMORE (AP) — Before anointing Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown the next coming of Secretariat, consider this: The colt enters Saturday’s Preakness off a two-week turnaround, the shortest of his career; he’s got problem front feet; and there are 12 horses with connections eager to show Big Brown can be beaten.
None of those factors has dimmed trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.’s massive confidence one bit.
“I just can’t wait to get over there,” he said, nodding toward Pimlico’s track. “We’re ready to move on, man.”
Big Brown delivered on Dutrow’s pre-Derby boasting with a 43/4-length victory nearly two weeks ago. The colt will try to take another step toward history by winning the Preakness in just his fifth career start.
Twenty-one of the last 23 Preakness winners did so off a two-week rest. Big Brown is the early 1-2 favorite, the lowest odds Pimlico officials can recall. Undefeated Preakness winners Majestic Prince (3-5 in 1969), Seattle Slew (2-5 in 1977) and Smarty Jones (2-5 in 2004) went off at low odds, too.
Dutrow has loudly proclaimed his dislike of the quick turnaround between races. He prefers either short breaks (up to five days) or long ones (up to 40 days) between races.
“But that’s just me,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that Big Brown won’t like it. Since he’s come out of the Derby up ’til this minute, I’m very happy with the horse. He’s just done everything that you would want a horse to do when they’re coming out of a race like that — he hasn’t missed an oat, he’s aggressive with his gallops.”
Big Brown stepped onto Pimlico’s track for the first time Thursday morning, galloping 11/2 miles. He was tracked by dozens of video and still cameras, and a horde of people followed him as he walked out to the track and back to the barn.
The colt never flinched with all the attention. He turned his head toward the sound of clicking cameras and looked around as though he was checking out the new scenery.
“He just does not get excited,” Dutrow said. “That’s a good thing because you need that kind of mental thing when you go into your races, especially the big races with the big crowds.”
Big Brown’s resume is impressive, but limited. He took five months off after winning his debut race on the turf at Saratoga in September because of problems with vertical cracks in his front hoofs. The so-called quarter cracks can bleed and make a horse lame. Movement and stress on the hooves can spread the crack and prevent it from healing.
Quarter cracks can come from a genetic disposition that causes a thin hoof wall. Like thousands of U.S. thoroughbreds, Big Brown is a descendant of Native Dancer, who had trouble with his feet. Native Dancer lost the 1953 Kentucky Derby by a head, then won the Preakness and Belmont.
Dutrow uses hoof repair ace Ian McKinlay to work on Big Brown’s feet. The colt was rocking a new pair of glued-on shoes Thursday afternoon outside his barn, unfazed by McKinlay’s handiwork.
Not quite Jimmy Choos, but designer shoe fiends Sarah Jessica Parker and Oprah Winfrey take note: these babies cost $550 a pair. A regular set of four shoes runs about $150.
Unlike the aluminum plate shoes nailed on most horses, the glue-ons are made of a pliable synthetic rubber. Usually only horses with foot problems wear the pricey shoes for comfort and protection, and only on their front feet.
Like he did in the Derby, Big Brown will sport bandages on his front legs because his right heel tends to get scraped.
“In the Kentucky Derby, it’s the best I’ve ever seen him come out of a race. The other two races he had some type of issues,” Dutrow said. “I’m going to keep the front bandages on him. I’m going to play it safe.”
Since recovering from his foot problems over the winter, Big Brown is 3-0, having cruised to victory by sizable margins.
But that didn’t dissuade 12 other horses from taking Big Brown on and trying to stop a potential Triple Crown bid. All but Gayego at 8-1 are listed at double-digit odds.
“He is the favorite and deserves to be the favorite, but favorites get beat,” said Edward Plesa Jr., who trains Hey Byrn.
Plesa’s colt has won 3-of-4; his only loss was to Big Brown in the Florida Derby.
“We’re not here to run for second money, we’re here to win the race,” said Plesa, who may as well have been speaking for all the other challengers.
Racing hasn’t had a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont 30 years ago. Speculation is swirling that Big Brown is a great horse, capable of joining the 11 others who made history.
“One of the signs that will tell us is when we look back at the horses that he ran against in the Derby and Preakness,” Plesa said. “Are they just a bunch of ordinary horses and he’s just the best of the bunch? Or are they good horses and he’s a champion? Time will tell.”