In his first Kentucky Derby, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. has made quite an entrance.
He has the buzz horse, otherwise known as Big Brown, the undefeated Florida Derby winner and 3-1 program favorite that has been followed by a small army of reporters and photographers since he arrived at Churchill Downs late Monday afternoon.
Dutrow has created a buzz of his own with the kind of up-front, matter-of-fact confidence that New Yorkers have known for years, but Derby loyalists see as brash and arrogant.
For that, the 48-year-old Dutrow makes no apologies.
“I know that when you have the best horse in the race, that’s usually what you need to win a horse race,” he said Thursday morning. “That’s all I’ve been looking at since we’ve known we were going to come here and run this race.
“I look at him, I look at the competition and it’s a horse race. I think we have the best horse in the race, and I think we have the best chance to win the race.”
There are significant obstacles for Big Brown to overcome in the 11⁄4-mile Derby. Like the other 19
3-year-olds in the race, it will be his first time at the classic distance.
A son of Boundary, Big Brown will break from post 20, which has produced one winner in 15 tries over 133 years, and has had quarter-crack issues in his feet that limited him to three races.
The last horse to win the Derby in its fourth career start was the filly Regret in 1915. The last to try it was Curlin, who ran third last year, but went on to capture Horse of the Year.
“I’m training him for a horse race. It doesn’t make me do anything different just because he’s training for the Kentucky Derby, even though it’s the biggest race in the world,” Dutrow said. “His talent and his ability are going to get us there, not my training techniques. Any good enough horseman can do what I’ve done with this horse. It’s the horse that is making the whole game go here.
“I feel very confident that if Big Brown breaks with the field, I think he’s going to run a big race. I just haven’t seen any other horse with my eyes that I think can beat him.”
Todd Pletcher, the four-time defending Eclipse Award winner as top trainer, is not surprised
by Dutrow’s faith in Big Brown. Pletcher will saddle both Monba and Cowboy Cal in the Derby.
“I’ve raced against Rick a lot in New York, and I know he’s a very good trainer and a very good horseman,” Pletcher said. “Generally, when he says something like that, you can take it for real because he knows what’s going on.
“I think he was similarly confident with Saint Liam before he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. To me, it indicates that the horse is doing very well.”
Big Brown showed that with a three-furlong breeze in :35.40 under regular exercise rider and Dutrow assistant Michelle Nevin at 8:30 Thursday morning on Churchill’s main track.
While unusual by Derby standards, the blowout was routine for Big Brown and Dutrow, who has tried to keep everything as normal as possible.
“He looked good to me,” Dutrow said. “I was as happy as I could be watching him. I could see when he turned around with the pony right away that he was a little aggressive, which you kind of expect, I think, but he went as good as he could have possibly went.
“It didn’t look like he did too much and was well within himself. He cooled out good at the barn. He looks like he’s as healthy as he can be to me.”
Long Island-born jockey Rich Migliore, who took his tack to California last year, is riding in his fifth Derby and first since 2004, aboard the speedy Bob Black Jack. Like Pletcher, he isn’t surprised by Dutrow’s bravado.
“I rode for him his whole careeer, and I rode for his father before he was training,” Migliore said. “Obviously, the Dutrows know how to train racehorses, and they win. He has a little different approach than his brother, who is maybe a little quieter, but he’s got a real good horse, and he knows how to win.
“He’s proud of his horse, and he’s speaking his mind. In one respect, that’s refreshing. This game can be so humbling, it wouldn’t be my approach. But he’s been that way his whole life, so why should he change now?”
Big Brown went gate-to-wire to win his career bow last Sept. 3 at Saratoga Race Course for former trainer Pat Reynolds. IEAH
Stables purchased majority interest afterward, and moved the colt to Dutrow.
“I’m very confident in Big Brown, only because he’s giving me this confidence,” Dutrow said. “I’m not just waking up and saying, ‘Hey, I’m confident.’ I’m seeing the horse. He’s giving me all the right signs.”