Saturday, May 17, 2008 Updated: May 18, 10:42 AM ET
Preakness laugher leaves Big Brown in line for glory
By Pat Forde ESPN.com
BALTIMORE -- The Preakness had just been won in a waltz, and trainer Rick Dutrow was waiting to be interviewed by NBC when he glimpsed at the JumboTron in the Pimlico Race Course infield.
On it, his massively talented colt, Big Brown, was flanked by a pair of lead ponies as they guided him back toward the winner's circle.
"Look at him," Dutrow said to NBC reporter Bob Neumeier. "He's in between two ponies. He loves it."
"He's like me at Scores!"
For the uninitiated, Scores is an exclusive New York strip club. The idea of devilish Rick Dutrow enjoying a filly double-team at a place like that is every bit as shocking as the idea that Big Brown would obliterate a wimpy Preakness field without breaking a sweat.
Dutrow is nobody's choirboy, a trainer with a rap sheet of various racetrack offenses as long as a jockey. Big Brown is everybody's All-American, a horse without apparent vice or weakness.
They make a pretty good team, the sinner trainer and the saintly colt. Perhaps historically good.
Big Brown now has won two Triple Crown races by a combined 10 lengths, with no obvious evidence that he's even had to try hard doing it. He's treated his 3-year-old brethren the way Tiger Woods treats the PGA Tour, the way Roger Federer has treated the ATP Tour, the way canines treat fire hydrants. He's unbeaten and looks unbeatable, at least by the motley collection of contenders he's faced so far.
Big Brown and his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, picked up the Preakness by 4 3/4 lengths. Big Brown will try to end the 30-year Triple Crown drought on June 7 in the Belmont.
Big Brown was really good on the first Saturday in May, and the Kentucky Derby field was weak. Big Brown was still really good on the third Saturday in May, and the Preakness field was worse.
"I'm not surprised he won so easy," Dutrow said. "We have a good horse, and I know he was running a race where they didn't have good horses running."
Big Brown may finally bump into a good horse in the Triple Crown finale, the Belmont Stakes (ABC, June 7). He's likely to face precocious Japanese import Casino Drive, who's undefeated in two starts, including a commanding victory in the Peter Pan Stakes.
"Number one, he looks like a nice horse," Dutrow said of Casino Drive. "Number two, I believe that he can't beat our horse. So all the Japanese people are going to come over here, they thought Godzilla was dead. They're going to find out he's not dead. He's here."
International smack talk. That's the kind of cockiness a horse like Big Brown can put into a trainer, a jockey and a brash set of owners. On the way to New York, there won't be much room on the Brownie bandwagon for surplus humility.
Over the past 30 years, the Belmont has been a merciless burial ground for bravado. In that time, 10 horses have gone to that track trying to become the 12th Triple Crown winner. Zero have accomplished the feat.
The task has become tougher as the thoroughbred has become frailer. Asking today's 3-year-old to win three races in five weeks -- the last one a 1½-mile meat grinder -- is asking a lot.
"I'm not afraid of a mile and a half," Dutrow said. "I'm not afraid of five weeks, three races. I can't imagine we're going to screw anything up here."
Lord, it's hard to be humble when you make it look this easy.
Big Brown won this race the way Michael Jordan must have beaten his kids in the driveway during his prime. He toyed with them -- doing just enough, and not a bit more. Jockey Kent Desormeaux made sure of it.
He said Big Brown slipped on his push away from the starting gate, beginning the race a length behind. From there Desormeaux guided his horse to the rail near the front, momentarily risking being pinned there. But a horse this tractable had no problem moving to the outside on the backstretch when asked to.
When they reached the far turn, Desormeaux knew Big Brown would inhale the leaders, Gayego and Riley Tucker. He peeked back beneath his right armpit to gauge the progress of his pursuers, then chirped in the colt's ear.
Just as he did in Louisville, Big Brown responded with a startling burst of quickness. A $50 million burst -- the price tag ownership group IEAH Stables reportedly agreed to Saturday, selling Big Brown's breeding rights to Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky.
Jockeys like to call horses like Big Brown "push button" -- they respond to commands instantly and easily. Desormeaux might as well have had an easy button Saturday.
"I'm thankful that I've been blessed with these beautiful people and this freak of a horse," Desormeaux said in the postrace interview, Dutrow and the principal owners of Big Brown to his left. "It was just the easiest win ever."
It was so easy that Desormeaux estimates he scrubbed Brownie's neck with his knuckles and forearms -- asking him to run hard -- for about 100 yards in a race that stretched across 1 3/16ths miles. Desormeaux's urging came at the head of the stretch, as Big Brown burst away.
"Then I looked between my legs and they were eight [lengths] behind me," Desormeaux said. "I stopped pushing. I said, 'That's enough.'"
Desormeaux was delicately balanced on Big Brown down the stretch, not asking him to do anything but keep galloping as the applause grew from the sun-splashed crowd of 112,222. He might have tapped Brownie twice on the shoulder with his stick at the top of the stretch, but that's it. Nothing there for PETA to get uptight about.
"He's going back to the barn only using half a tank," Desormeaux said. "So I hope I helped make Mr. Dutrow's job a little easier over the next three weeks."
In fact, as Big Brown galloped out under the wire and Desormeaux yanked on the reins to slow him down, the big horse shook his head side to side. He wanted to keep running.
"It was the most unbelievable performance I've ever seen," IEAH co-owner Michael Iavarone said as he embraced Dutrow after the race. "My wife [Dee] was crying [as Big Brown ran] down the backside."
"I can't blame you," Dutrow responded. "I was, too."
It will be tears or cheers at Belmont, in the race that will either stamp Big Brown a superhorse or make him the latest heartbreak kid in a sport full of them over three decades.
He will be prohibitively favored once again in New York. And if Big Brown wins, the lap dances are on Rick Dutrow.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.