`Brown' isn't paling

Kentucky Derby

May 03, 2008|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The rumors were flying around the backstretch barns yesterday morning. Big Brown, the favorite for today's 134th Kentucky Derby, was having foot problems, and trainer Rick Dutrow was being slow to answer questions about the horse's feet.

But over at the Dutrow barn, Big Brown was out in front of his stable having a bath. Looking unconcerned. And there beside him was Dutrow, showing his usual smiley face.

"Have you checked his hooves today?" he was asked.

"Of course," he said.

"And?"

"His feet are fine," he said. "Everything's good, babe."

Nothing has disturbed the public confidence emanating from the Big Brown connections this week. Not questions about the horse's front hooves that have had quarter crack problems. Not the 20-horse field. Not the No. 20 starting post.

Not even the prospect of two speed horses to Big Brown's left who could force him to expend his speed early in the 1 1/4 -mile test on Churchill Downs' dirt track.

"Winning boils down to getting to the finish line first," Dutrow said. "It helps to have the fastest horse in the race. We have the fastest horse. We sure do, babe."

Today's Derby sets up with two compelling story lines. One surrounds Big Brown, sired by Boundry, and the other, Eight Belles, the Unbridled's Song filly who is the first to race in the Derby since 1999, when Excellent Meeting and Three Ring ran.

Eight Belles is trying to become the fourth filly to win the Derby.

"I think about half the people will be rooting for her, whether their husbands like it or not," her trainer, Larry Jones, said.

The Big Brown story is fascinating primarily because of the incredible confidence being displayed by his trainer.

"He's up against it," said two-time Derby winner Nick Zito, who sends Cool Coal Man and Anak Nakal into the race. "I think it is going to be very interesting because Recapturetheglory is just inside Big Brown, and I don't see him not going or not trying to get the lead."

Recapturetheglory's trainer, Louie Roussel III, who has enjoyed his return to Churchill Downs for the first time since bringing Risen Star here 20 years ago, indicated Dutrow shouldn't expect his horse to do Big Brown any favors.

"We're armed and dangerous," Roussel said.

Arkansas Derby winner Gayego, positioned between Big Brown and Recapuretheglory, is no slouch, either.

There could be a crowd going for the lead, a position Big Brown has relished in his three wins that have come by a combined 29 lengths.

But Dutrow doesn't see a problem. He has had the new blue suit with its accompanying red tie that he bought for the Florida Derby cleaned and plans to wear it again today. If all goes well, Dutrow said, he'd like to wear it twice more after that - at the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. A subtle allusion to a possible Triple Crown.

"I'm not handicapping second," he said. "If my horse breaks good and he's at our top cruising speed, we'll have everything going our way and the others won't.

"If [jockey] Kent [Desormeaux] gets him to the first turn without using him, I'm not even watching the race. I'm going right to the window and be first in line to cash my winning ticket. If we have to use him, it has always looked like he has had something left in the tank. ... It's all about the horse. He was born to run, and he looks like the best of his class to me."

To do what Dutrow believes he will do, Big Brown will need a historic performance.

It would require him to join 1929 winner Clyde Van Dusen as the only two winners from the No. 20 post. It would require him to become the first winner with just three starts on his 3-year-old resume to win since the filly Regret did it in her fourth start in 1915.

It also would require the brown colt to stay healthy. Yesterday, the trainer said he would wrap Big Brown's front legs as a precautionary measure to keep the colt from scraping the back of his right front heel during the race.

Dutrow described the problem as being similar to a human rubbing a heel while breaking in a new pair of shoes. "I'm sure he'll run the same race," he said. "He wears these bandages every day."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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