BALTIMORE - The black cap worn by trainer Rick Dutrow yesterday morning at Pimlico Race Course had two words emblazoned across the front: TRIPLE CROWN.
The words on Dutrow's head will be on his mind for the next three weeks, until Big Brown, his undefeated Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, leaves the gate at the Belmont Stakes on June 7, trying to become the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years.
Saturday's 51/4-length Preakness victory offered nothing but hope that Big Brown would be the one to break through, even though Dutrow said after the Preakness that there had been no other "good horses" in the race.
At the Belmont, there should be another strong horse, Casino Drive, the colt who shipped in from Japan and won the Peter Pan Stakes on May 10 by 53/4 lengths. Casino Drive is a half-brother of the last two Belmont Stakes winners.
For the sake of Big Brown's legacy, is Dutrow pleased in any way that Casino Drive might be there as an obstacle?
"No, I hope he gets sick or something like that," he said with a smile. "I don't want to run against anything that can run. That's not going to help us win."
But Dutrow did not sound nervous about the competition.
"I'd like to have the horse," Dutrow said of Casino Drive, "but I don't see him beating Big Brown. I mean, what I saw of him, he doesn't have that quick turn, where he just turns it on."
The eternal Belmont Stakes question is whether horses can go the distance, since they have never run as long as the 11/2 miles required on that day at Belmont Park.
"I'm not afraid of the distance," Dutrow said. "It might even work to our advantage."
He talked about how Casino Drive, with only two career starts, just ran a big race.
"Most of the time, when horses fly in from other countries and are in quarantine for so long, they run good off the plane. But then they've got to sit a little while, and their next race might not be so strong," Dutrow said.
So Dutrow is not interested in drumming up a rivalry. He figures Big Brown, with New York owners and a New York-based trainer, will sell enough tickets as is.
"There won't be enough room," Dutrow predicted.