BALTIMORE - If you followed Maryland racing in the 1970s into the '80s, three men dominated the daily racing programs at Bowie, Laurel and Pimlico - trainers Bud Delp, King Leatherbury and Dick Dutrow. There were few races without a horse trained by one of them, two of them or all of them.
Delp got the big horse and won just about everything with Spectacular Bid. Dutrow eventually went to New York and won big there. Leatherbury never left Maryland and is still winning.
Dutrow and Delp are gone now, but, if you were around then, you remember three teenagers who followed Dutrow wherever he went - the Dutrow brothers, Rick, Chip and Tony.
Tony is one of the top trainers at Philadelphia Park. Chip hangs with Rick, who trains Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown. The son got the big horse and knew just what to do. He wanted the Derby. Now, he wants today's Preakness.
"I remember it like was yesterday," Rick said. "I mean, you know, every day they had six, seven horses in. We'd be claiming three or four every day."
But not from one another. The "Big Three" reached an agreement: They would beat up on everybody else, not each other.
"Every time the Preakness came around, Dad would always win a race Preakness Day," Rick remembered.
He just did not have a horse good enough to win the Preakness. Rick does.
"It's where I grew up," Rick said. "It's where I learned most of the trades of the game, right there at Pimlico, Bowie and Laurel."
Bowie closed in 1985. It was the late 1980s when the kid from Louisiana showed up in Maryland trying to win some races. In 1987, jockey Kent Desormeaux won 450 of them. The next year, he broke Chris McCarron's American record and topped out at 598, then and now the record.
"Everyone knows how excited people get for the Kentucky Derby," said Desormeaux, who won his third aboard Big Brown. "Well, I get just as excited or more about the Preakness. I may have grown up in Maurice, La., but I grew up in the industry at Pimlico and Laurel."
Desormeaux is closing on 5,000 wins. He has won everything - except the Triple Crown. A decade ago, he had it won on Real Quiet. Then, he didn't, getting caught on the last stride of the Belmont Stakes by Victory Gallop.
"It is still stressful," Desormeaux said. "The butterflies are going to be there. We just don't know how resilient the horse is. We don't know if he gets into a dogfight that he'll just say, 'Not this time, I'll catch you next time.' That's what is so awesome about the Triple Crown and the 11 horses that have accomplished the feat. It takes an absolute freak to be ready to go again in 3 weeks."
Is Big Brown that freak?
"Coming back in 2 weeks, it is stacked against him," Dutrow said. "He's not a robot. He has run fast races and fast numbers, and 2 weeks is not ideal timing. You need time to regroup and we haven't got that kind of time."
They don't. But they do have the fastest horse.
The trainer, notorious for partying without much provocation, says he's been behaving himself. Hasn't been feeling that well.
"I'm doing all right," Dutrow said. "It's just that dirt Big Brown kicked up in my lungs."
We saw it. Desormeaux felt it.
"It was so obvious the separation when I encouraged Big Brown to go," Desormeaux said. "He just left the field and that's what I have been awed about it . . . This horse is really, really fast."
Big Brown is also worth a lot of money. The colt was insured for more than $30 million before the Derby. Now, it is $50 million. If Big Brown wins the Preakness as he won the Derby and his other three races, you might not able to count that high.
Lexington Stakes winner Behindatthebar was scratched yesterday morning after trainer Todd Pletcher noticed a bruise in the colt's left front foot. There are only two graded stakes winners in the field besides Big Brown . . . Six-year-old colt Student Council, ridden by Shuan Bridgmohan, was the upset winner over Gottcha Gold in the revived Pimlico Special . . . Sweet Vendetta closed strongly to win the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over Shes All Eltish.*