BALTIMORE - Even if you thought Big Brown was a cinch in the Kentucky Derby and knew that millions of dollars would be bet on that theory, there were ways to make money because of the 20-horse field. Now that the depth of Big Brown's talent has been fully exposed, making money on the proposition that Big Brown can't lose tomorrow's Preakness becomes quite a bit more complicated.
The $1 superfecta in the Derby paid nearly $30,000. If Big Brown wins at Pimlico, and there is little reason to think he won't, there will be no payoffs like that.
I thought Big Brown was a free space in Kentucky, but even I did not think the colt would sit five wide the entire race and run around the far turn like the race was just beginning. It was dazzling in every way.
Big Brown's trainer Rick Dutrow did not think Big Brown could lose the Derby. He is not quite as confident about the Preakness.
"When the horse goes into the race the right way, good timing and all, I don't see anyone beating him," Dutrow said. "But now it's not happening. You've got to come right back off that huge, huge race. I know it looks like he's the best horse, but Pimlico's a different game."
Still, having the best horse is a good place to start. If the sport, another horse or both do not catch up to Big Brown in the Preakness, it really could happen in the Belmont Stakes. Anybody see last Saturday's Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park? Casino Drive, a Kentucky bred owned and trained by two Japanese men and whose only race had been in Japan, was awesome. And that race was not the goal. That would be the Belmont Stakes, a race the colt's half-brother and half-sister won the last 2 years.
Interestingly, Big Brown's jockey Kent Desormeaux rode Casino Drive.
"I certainly understand how Jazil and Rags to Riches won the Belmont," Desormeaux said. "Yeah, he can run a lot. It's going to be fun. He's a phenomenal talent, and we've got our hands full with this one. It's going to be ultimately exciting for all of the fans. He's got that stride."
First, the Preakness.
Make sure to get a good look at Big Brown. A stud deal is in the works. Co-owner Michael Iavarone said there is no chance Big Brown will run past this year.
Big Brown hit the track at Pimlico for the first time about 8:30 yesterday morning as hundreds looked on. A few hours later at the annual Alibi Breakfast in the Pimlico clubhouse, Dutrow, apparently gaining confidence, said: "Go to the windows."
Not long after that statement, Ian McKinlay, blacksmith to the stars, was carefully working on Big Brown's left front foot, getting ready to change one of the glued-on shoes on his front feet.
Dutrow could not train Big Brown at all in January because of the colt's foot issues that apparently are behind him. And the colt still won the Derby.
"I just know it's absolutely unbelievable that he could make this race when he didn't even go to the track in the month of January," Dutrow said. "Just incredible."
Big Brown did not just make the race. He owned it.
Still, there are doubters. It is the nature of the sport.
"Well, you know, let's not get Big Brown in the Hall of Fame a little too soon here," said Reade Baker, who trains Kentucky Bear.
Baker brought Bear Now to Philadelphia Park to win the Cotillion Handicap over odds-on favorite Octave last year. This would be a far bigger upset.
"If Big Brown was in any other race coming from Kentucky to the Preakness, all the wise guys would be saying he's going to bounce [go off form]," Baker said. "So just because we call them the Derby and the Preakness, why can't he bounce?"
Actually, Big Brown could bounce. And still win. On paper, he is that much better.
Dutrow said he has put no "pressure" on Big Brown since the Derby, figuring the colt is plenty fit and has no need to show his speed anywhere but in the Preakness.
Do not be shocked to see Big Brown in front. This is a race filled with plodders. Other than Big Brown, only Tres Borrachos, third in the Arkansas Derby; Giant Moon, whose style seems to have changed; and Gayego, who was eliminated at the start of the Derby and finished 17th, have any early speed. Big Brown showed speed on command when he rushed to the front in the Florida Derby and never slowed down.
The three races and 20 post were reasons to bet against Big Brown in the Derby. Did not matter. When Recapturetheglory reared up and dumped his rider in the tunnel on the way to the track before the Derby, Big Brown was trapped in a small space for several minutes with no place to go. With people screaming all about him and their words echoing off the walls, Big Brown just calmly wandered around - until the traffic cleared, and he emerged into the sunshine. Nothing mattered.
Dutrow figures Big Brown is about even money to win the Triple Crown. The colt will be far less than that to win the Preakness.
"He's not hooking the toughest horses out there," Dutrow said. "So most likely, as long as nothing bad happens, he'll get by this one."
I listened to Dutrow in Kentucky. I am still listening.
More important than what I hear is what I see and what I know.
Big Brown is a sensational talent. The colt's three main-track speed figures are so far superior to any figure of any other horse in the race that it is impossible to get past Big Brown.
So the question is about second, third and fourth. When Citation, the last Derby winner to face a Preakness field without any other Derby horses in it, raced against three horses in 1948, place and show wagering were eliminated. They have that here, along with exactas, trifectas and superfectas.
If, in fact, Big Brown is going to the front, that could hurt any horse chasing him or near him. The best closers look like Macho Again and Racecar Rhapsody. I had one very sharp person tell me that if Kentucky Bear had made the Derby field, he might have bet on him. The colt was working that well in the Derby run-up. So, Kentucky Bear, to me, is a must use in the exotics. And I would certainly use Gayego, who had no luck in Kentucky and figures much closer to the pace where he will be in his comfort zone.
There you have it - Big Brown on top again with some combination of the names in the preceding paragraph. No $30,000 there, but something. And something still spends. *