BALTIMORE - The jockeys came off the track in a straggling line and trudged to the scale near the winner's circle. Their faces had a thin coating of dirt where the goggles hadn't covered and each of them was shaking his head.
Nearly all of them were smiling as well. It was the smile of those who don't exactly like what just happened, but there wasn't much they could have done about it, either.
"He's a monster," Julien Leparoux said with a laugh. "It's no shame to be second to this horse anyway. Everyone was running for second."
Leparoux was able to laugh a little more than the others. He did win the other Preakness Stakes yesterday, the one contested by the 11 horses who ended up chasing Big Brown the way puppies chase after a tractor trailer. His horse, Macho Again, was still more than five lengths behind the real winner, who coasted majestically to the finish line, but that was the only spot really up for grabs yesterday.
"He answered questions in the Derby," Leparoux said in his lilting French accent. "And he tell you something in this race."
What Big Brown had to say, from one point of view, is that he is clearly the best horse in a 3-year-old class that has been unable to produce a worthy opponent. In another way, his race said he might have been able to hold his own any year, you pick it.
"It looks like Big Brown might win the Belmont [by more] than Secretariat," said Patrick Gallagher, trainer of Yankee Bravo and one of the straggling line that trudged down from the stands to gather their horses after the race. Their march was just like that of the jockeys, just a different direction. Same smile, same shaking of the head. No dirt, though.
"That is one helluva racehorse," Rich Schosberg, trainer of Giant Moon, said.
So yesterday made it official, if there was actually a need for more officiating after Big Brown broke from the 20th post position in the Kentucky Derby and powered away from the field despite running four-wide the entire trip. What happened at Pimlico yesterday was just a second way this horse can slice up the pie.
This time, with a favorable post position, Big Brown was guided into third place along the rail by jockey Kent Desormeaux by the time the first quarter-mile had been run. He sat there for a while, with Desormeaux standing in the irons and checking the reins tightly, before it was time to avoid a traffic jam and drift outside of the two pretenders ahead of him after six furlongs.
Gayego and Riley Tucker were ahead of him as they approached the final turn, and it must have taken a lot out of them to hold Big Brown off as long as they did. Those two horses finished next to last and last.
Big Brown eased past them on the turn - with Desormeaux still holding tight, just along for the ride - and then accelerated at the top of the stretch as the jockey touched him twice on the right shoulder. And that was pretty much that.
"Did you see what Desormeaux had to do during the race?" Jeremy Rose, jockey on third-place Icabad Crane, was asked.
"I'm guessing it wasn't much," Rose said.
Desormeaux peeked back under his arm to see where the field was as Big Brown gobbled up the stretch run. Jockeys have perfect internal range finders, and Desormeaux put the lead at eight lengths.
"I stopped pushing. I said, 'That's enough,' " Desormeaux said. "Then I looked one more time . . . and I started slowing him down and watching TV, make sure nothing went crazy."
Not this time, not like the breakdown of Eight Belles after the Derby, an unsettling side story that sapped some of the richness from Big Brown's race. Nothing crazy this time, except the ease with which the horse won.
There is one more race between Big Brown and history, just a mile and a half until he breaks racing's 30-year Triple Crown drought and puts his name on that short list of greatness.
Winning it by as many lengths as Secretariat in 1973 - that would be 31, to be exact - isn't very likely. But he won't have to, either. One length would be plenty for the books.
More likely is somewhere in between those two numbers. Big Brown is undefeated in his five starts, winning by margins of 111/4, 123/4, 5, 43/4 and 51/4 lengths. He's had fewer photos than Howard Hughes.
There will be horses trying to catch him at the Belmont Stakes, including highly touted Casino Drive and a few Derby horses who have rested since.
"Good luck to 'em. That's all I can say," Rose said.
But some will try, because there is history on the line and because the Triple Crown isn't ever a cinch. The last one, Affirmed, was 30 years ago, after all.
"Yeah, it was 30 years," Rose said, wearing the rueful smile of the convinced. And then he went to wash his face.