LOUISVILLE, Ky. - To understand the essence of Ricky Dutrow, you need to hear a story that Mark Reid tells about a story once told to him by Dick Dutrow, one of the great horse trainers of his generation and Rick's father.

"He said he makes me feel like I'm in kindergarten and he's a college professor," Reid remembered the elder Dutrow saying about his son. "He'll either wind up in the Hall of Fame or in the state pen doing life. He's going to wind up being a lifer somewhere."

If you were sitting across a poker table from Ricky Dutrow, you could be assured of one thing. Very soon, he would put you all in. And would keep doing it until one of you was gone.

Dutrow does not ascribe to limits. He is relentless in everything he does.

So Big Brown is a perfect first Kentucky Derby horse for Dutrow, the man who trained 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam. In each of his three starts, the colt has gone all in, winning by a combined 29 lengths and running the best speed figures of his generation.

Dutrow, 48, tells anybody who asks that Big Brown can't lose, that the Derby is just another race and not a very tough one. He also tells them that the colt will be favored. If the public doesn't make that happen, Dutrow assures that between the colt's owners and the trainer, they will make it happen.

"I'm going to bet as much as I can, as much as my friends [read, bookies] will let me," Dutrow said yesterday morning at Churchill Downs. "I can't get in trouble if I lose, because I'll pay off in time, and if I win, they'll pay off in time."

Reid, the all-time leading trainer at Philadelphia Park until being passed by Scott Lake, has known Dutrow since the 1970s. Reid learned the game in Maryland from Rick's father.

"When I first started making money, I'm like, 30 years old, it was a big deal," Reid said. "I got to a $25 blackjack table in Atlantic City. I knew I made it.

"I'm talking to my wife. Over my back shoulder, I see this guy betting $400 a hand, $500 a hand, $1,000 a hand. I turn around and it was Rick. He was about 17. He shouldn't have even been in the place."

Rick calls everybody "Babe." One NFL Sunday, he called Reid and said, 'Hey, Babe, this guy I usually use, I owe him 80 grand and I can't pay him. The other guy I used last week, I beat him for 60 grand and he won't pay me, so I can't pay the other guy.' "

Rick's brother Tony lives in Newtown. Tony is one of Philadelphia Park's top trainers. He is quiet, solid, predictable. Rick is loud, controversial, unpredictable.

Rick Dutrow stories are legendary. Some even sound like fiction. Dutrow really did live in a tack room at Aqueduct for months. Legend has it that somebody outside the track was looking for him. And Dutrow thought it wise to stay where he was insulated.

There is no party he hasn't attended, few vices he has not considered. He was ruled off New York tracks for 5 years in the late 1980s by New York racing authorities after testing positive for marijuana.

"I don't think I'm a person you look for for guidance - don't do this, don't do that," Dutrow said. "The only thing I need is to be around my horses. On suspension, I try to break in in the middle of the night and see my horses. I never should leave the barn. When I leave the barn, trouble starts."

These days, Rick is behaving himself as Big Brown gears up for the Derby.

"He literally has like a lawn chair/bed type of thing [at Palm Meadows in Florida where the colt spent the winter]," Tony said. "When he gets done in the morning, he takes a nap right down the shedrow from that horse's stall. I think Rick's behavior the last 5 weeks has been really good. Don't ask me what he'll do after the Derby, because you can only imagine."

Rick flew in the plane with Big Brown to Louisville. The partying will have to wait. But it won't wait forever.

The night Saint Liam won the Breeders' Cup Classic, Rick was front and center in a wild party at the Savannah Club, 10 miles out Hempstead Turnpike from Belmont Park. Rachel, a woman he met in Amsterdam, where he fled during a suspension earlier that year for improper medication of a horse, was flailing away on a violin. Rick kept saying, "I'm all in."

He borrowed money, lots of money, that week, to bet on Saint Liam. Nobody knows for sure, but he could have won seven figures.

"And," Tony Dutrow said that night, "it could be gone by next weekend."

When Rick brought Love of Money to PhillyPark for the 2004 Pennsylvania Derby, he also brought cash. The horse was 12-1. Rick bet $2,000 to win and place. The horse won by 8 1/2 lengths. Rick won $35,000 at the windows and another $45,000 as his 10 percent of the purse.

In a sport in which everybody is suspicious of everybody, Rick Dutrow arouses as much suspicion as anybody. He served a 60-day suspension the summer of 2005 for two old horse-medication positives. Word was he trained his horses at Saratoga from a house that overlooked the Oklahoma training track.

Before the major races, the horse-racing police are much more serious. They were very much in evidence before that 2005 Breeders' Cup.

"NYRA [New York Racing Association] put 24-hour surveillance on Ricky for, like, 2 weeks," Tony said. "Saint Liam run faster that day than he ever run."

Whatever is fact or fiction about Rick Dutrow, nobody can deny the man his record. Horses run for him.

"He may be the greatest horseman on the planet today," Reid said. "He knows more about a race horse and gets more run out of a horse and for longer periods of time, and they look better and they hold their form longer than any trainer I ever saw. Tony said it best: 'Horses run fast for my brother Ricky.' And they do."

The night before Saint Liam won the Breeders' Cup, Reid got a call from Dutrow, telling him frantically that he needed a box for his mother, his nephews and daughter.

Reid wondered why Rick didn't already have a box for them. He did, but had given it away to a few women he had just met, one he planned to marry. The marriage apparently did not happen, but nobody knows for sure. With Rick, nobody ever really knows.

"There's somebody that has lived hard," Reid said. "He never stops. His main weakness is he loves to gamble. It does not matter what it is. Let's flip a coin for $500. When he says all in all the time, that is what he is."

Now, hard-living, hard-gambling, all-in Rick Dutrow is the trainer of the Kentucky Derby favorite. And he says the colt can't lose. He might know something. *