BALTIMORE - Big Brown's first stride from the starting gate in the 133d Preakness Stakes, his first move in the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, took the horse nowhere.
"He's so strong, he powered out with his back legs and he just slipped," said Big Brown's jockey, Kent Desormeaux, his pre-race plans suddenly obsolete. "He was standing in the same spot. It was actually his second push that led him out of the gate. The door was open, and I was a length off the lead."
That merely delayed the inevitable. By the second turn at Pimlico Race Course, Big Brown had taken charge.
The Kentucky Derby winner, a 1-5 favorite here, eased to a 51/4-length victory, still unchallenged in his brief five-race career. In three weeks, the 3-year-old will run in the Belmont Stakes, trying to become the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years.
"There's not a grain of sand on his forehead or even most of his body," Desormeaux said later. "It was an armchair ride."
In front of 112,222, the fifth-largest crowd in Preakness history, Big Brown covered the 1 3/16-mile course in 1 minute and 54.80 seconds. Trainer Rick Dutrow was happy Desormeaux only tapped the horse a couple of times on his right shoulder with his whip before he put it away.
"I'm going to be under the impression that he's going to be awfully tough to beat in the Belmont," Dutrow said, aware that a colt named Casino Drive, the Peter Pan Stakes winner, shipped in from Japan, could be his prime competitor at the Belmont.
Dutrow probably didn't do much for diplomatic relations with Japan when he said, "All Japanese people are going to think when they come - they thought that Godzilla was dead. They're going to find out he's not dead; he's here."
Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown, but none since Affirmed in 1978. Since then, 10 horses have won the Derby and Preakness and failed to win the Belmont. Desormeaux was on Real Quiet in 1998 when he missed the Triple Crown by a nose.
Macho Again, owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, the syndicate run by Terry Finley of Mount Laurel, Burlington County, took second, a half-length ahead of Icabad Crane.
"I knew he was a real nice horse, and he came home great," said Dallas Stewart, Macho Again's trainer. "He hooked a superstar, you know."
For Big Brown, there was one danger spot in the race, along the backstretch. Big Brown was on the rail behind front-runner Gayego, with Riley Tucker, ridden by Edgar Prado, alongside him.
When Big Brown picked up a gear, Desormeaux saw Prado push Riley Tucker, too. Rather than chance being boxed in, Desormeaux took Big Brown outside and sailed from there. The jockey looked back between his legs and saw no horses in hot pursuit.
"I guess I was knuckling on him, elbows and whatnot, for about a hundred yards," Desormeaux said. "And then I looked between my legs . . . "
He stopped pushing, he said.
All the racing for the day finished without a breakdown, two weeks after Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles fractured both front legs galloping out after the Derby and was euthanized immediately on the track before her trainer, Larry Jones, even knew she had been injured. Jones had a 4-year-old filly here yesterday in the Allaire DuPont Distaff Stakes, the race before the Preakness. Buy the Barrel won by 21/2 lengths, ridden by Gabriel Saez, who also had ridden Eight Belles.
"It's very special to win on a big day of racing, especially to be paired back up with Gabriel," Jones said. Still, he said, "It's bittersweet for us. It's good to be back on the winning side."
Before the race, it was announced that Big Brown's breeding rights were sold to Three Chimneys Farm, the retirement home of Smarty Jones in Midway, Ky., for a reported $50 million.
As Big Brown walked around the turf course where the Preakness horses are saddled, managing partner Michael Iavarone walked to Robert Clay of Three Chimneys. "A little bit of a looker," Iavarone said with a nod toward Big Brown.
"Good luck, I'll see you," Clay told Iavarone, shaking his hand, aware that their investment would go up or down drastically based on the result of this race.
When the gate opened and Big Brown had his misstep, Desormeaux said his pre-race plans were "no longer - it was throw out Plan A and B. I was now dealt a whole new deck of cards. I reached and grabbed him, made him stay there, and angled to the fence."
Dutrow was a bit surprised to see Big Brown inside, "looking trapped," but he relied on Desormeaux.
"It looked kind of dangerous at that point," Dutrow said. "But, you know, Kent had the horse."
See video of the race on CineSport at http://go.philly.
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