T rainer Rick Dutrow Jr. touted Big Brown to anyone who asked in the days leading up to the race that his horse would win the Kentucky Derby.
Two weeks later, that kind of bravado is mostly gone, replaced by a quieter yet still unwavering confidence heading into today’s 133rd Preakness.
“I think that it’s our race to lose,” Dutrow said Friday morning. “I think he’s the best horse in the race, and I think if he breaks with the field, then he’ll win the race.
“No one can tell me how he’s going to run. He looks like he’s going to run his race, but two weeks is a question mark. I don’t see it being a question mark as to where he’s going to get beat.”
Post time is 6:15 p.m. for the Preakness, the 12th event in a marathon 13-race card that begins at 10:30 a.m.
Big Brown looks to become the 32nd horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and the seventh since 1997. It has been 30 years since anyone swept all three races.
Eleven horses will line up around Big Brown, expected to go off as the biggest favorite in race history, and try to extend the drought for another year.
The morning-line choice at 1-2, Big Brown will wear No. 7, but break from post six in the Preakness, moving one stall to his left following the defection of Behindatthebar with a foot injury.
“This weekend is a great test for him,” said Ken McPeek, who
trains Racecar Rhapsody. “Now he’s in the middle. He isn’t going to be on the outside. He’s going to get a little dirt in his face. He’s probaby going to get a sloppy racetrack. If he’s going to be a Triple Crown winner, let him work for it.”
Big Brown has won his four career starts by a combined 333⁄4 lengths, including his debut on turf at Saratoga Race Course last summer, when he was trained by Pat Reynolds.
He and Gayego, who ran 17th, are the only Preakness horses to come out of the Derby, the fewest in 28 years. Twenty-one of the last 23 Preakness winners have won on two weeks’ rest.
“It seems like he’s the same horse,” Dutrow said, “but you just don’t ever know because you don’t have the breezes. I’m not saying that if he does react that somebody’s going to beat him. I don’t see that happening.”
More than the quick turnaround, which allowed for only jogs and gallops leading up to today, Dutrow is concerned that Big Brown gets out of the gate cleanly.
“War Emblem broke dead last in the Belmont, and that cost him big time,” Dutrow said. “The break, in my opinion, is the only issue we have to worry about.”
War Emblem won the Derby and Preakness before stumbling out of the gate and finishing eighth in the 2002 Belmont Stakes, beaten out of history by 70-1 shot Sarava.
At $142.50, Sarava was the highest-priced winner in Belmont history, which dates back to 1867. He was trained by McPeek.
“We felt like War Emblem was a little vulnerable, and it kind of came together that weekend,” McPeek said. “There isn’t any reason why it can’t come together this weekend. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit.
“There are no sure things in this game. You can’t have fear. My horse will run all day long, and he’s just doing really well. David didn’t slay Goliath by keeping his slingshot in his pocket, so we’ll see.”
Not since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 has a Derby winner come to Pimlico expected to make the Preakness a mere formality on the way to the Triple Crown. Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, who will also be aboard Big Brown, FuPeg ran second.
“He came in here and just went for a gallop,” Desormeaux said. “That’s what reminds me that they still have to run, that there’s no guarantee.
“It’s still a horse race, and Big Brown is still going to have to put his best stride down or at least something near it to beat all these fresh horses. Most of them are fresh horses.”
Eddie Plesa Jr. trains Hey Byrn, the Holy Bull winner who entered but didn’t get into the Derby, due to insufficient graded-stakes earnings. Hey Byrn was a distant fourth by 153⁄4 lengths to Big Brown in the Florida Derby.
“I say horses get beat,” Plesa said. “There is no such thing as unbeatable. If you thought that, nobody would have thought the Giants were going to win the Super Bowl. If it was as simple as picking up a newspaper and reading what their credentials are and saying, ‘I can’t beat ’em,’ there’d be no horse racing. It happens; 1-5 shots get beat.”
If not, Big Brown will have three weeks to recover for the 140th Belmont, to be run at Belmont Park on June 7.
“We’re hoping that he doesn’t have to get on his belly for the race, so we have something left for the Belmont,” Dutrow said. “The Derby we got out of, so now this is what we’ve got to get through to go to the next race.
“This is a very big race for us. We’re not discounting it. We’re going to put everything we have into winning this race. It’s very important to us to win.”