Triumph for one man, tragedy for another

May 04, 2008|By RICK MAESE

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — LOUISVILLE, Ky.-- His face completely flush, sweating adrenaline and crying euphoria, Rick Dutrow moved through the crowd like a child on the monkey bars, swinging from hug to hug. There was no break, no time to think and no cause to reflect.

"We did good, babe," he cried, his arms wrapped around another dark-suited well-wisher. His colt, Big Brown, did everything Dutrow thought he would, staging such an impressive win in the 134th Kentucky Derby that all the Triple Crown buzz these next two weeks will be more than justified.

Not far away, still on the track, near the first turn, there was another trainer and more hugs and more tears. Larry Jones' filly finished second, but Eight Belles broke down and had to be euthanized right there, not far from the celebration. "She ran the race of her life," Jones said later, choking back his emotions.

The line separating triumph and tragedy at the track had never felt thinner. The second-place horse heading for an autopsy, the winner heading to Baltimore. One trainer left to wonder what could have been, and another waking up this morning and planning what might be.

So, let's ask: What might be? It's an exciting question today. In recent years, only Derby winners Barbaro and Smarty Jones inspired as much confidence heading into the Preakness.

For Dutrow, who overcame so many obstacles - mostly self-imposed - to reach the winner's circle at Churchill Downs, yesterday's win marked the start of a party that you can bet will continue in Baltimore and maybe even beyond.

"When you go after something, and you keep striving to get it, I mean, you're after it, and your mind keeps going in that direction," said Dutrow, the son of Dickie Dutrow, who was one of Maryland's top trainers in the 1970s and early '80s. "You want it, you want it, you want it. And I just kept wanting it.

"Now I want the Preakness."

Despite Dutrow's daily assurances, as dependable and prompt as the pre-dawn coffee last week, there were plenty of reasons to doubt Big Brown heading into the Derby. For starters, no colt since 1915 had won the race with so little experience, and no winner since 1929 managed to start from the 20th post and win.

There won't be too many reasons to doubt Big Brown heading into the Preakness. He's a horse who is not only ignoring history, but also might be primed to make it.

"All we have to do is stay out of his way, just not do anything stupid around him," Dutrow said, "and he'll run like this again."

Admittedly, it was tough to swallow all the hype over the past several days. You're forgiven if you wondered whether Dutrow, gregarious and infectious, really knew his horse would win or he just really wanted his horse to win. As Big Brown's co-owner, Michael Iavarone, said, "Rick's word is God to me," so what Dutrow says about Big Brown's near future won't be easy to dismiss.

Put simply, Dutrow likes his horse - a whole lot - but it's too early for him to break out the bold predictions.

Big Brown now faces the same obstacle as every Derby winner before - ridiculously little prep time before the next leg of the Triple Crown series. Dutrow likes taking his time between races, and the two questions we'll hear again and again are: Will Big Brown be ready to do it again in two weeks? And will Dutrow?

"The timing is not good for me," he said. "I know he looks like he's the best horse of this crop, but still, he's got to go over there in two weeks and has to show up there the right way again.

"I don't think I'm going to feel as confident because I really love training a horse for a race. I can't do it now. My hands are tied."

When Dutrow saw his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, in the paddock after yesterday's Derby, he said there was only thing he had to tell him: "We got to go back in two weeks."

Desormeaux has ridden atop three Kentucky Derby winners. He senses something different about Big Brown. He has been cautious about predictions, coyly saying early in the week and again after the race last night that he'll let Big Brown show us how good he is.

But Desormeaux doesn't mind revealing that he thinks the big bay colt has more talent than any horse he has ridden, an impressive list that includes Real Quiet and Fusaichi Pegasus.

Desormeaux, one of the top jockeys to come out of Maryland, is the one who best captured the day's conflicting emotions. Few of the men in the barns know what it's like to take a horse to the winner's circle at the Derby. But many know what it's like to lose one with great potential.

"I think this horse, he showed you his heart," Desormeaux said of Big Brown, "and Eight Belles showed you her life."

It wasn't easy to listen to Jones talk about his lost filly. The hurt dripped off his words. It was clear he loved his filly.

It was touching, and while the different emotions were jarring, the depth of emotions was reassuring. As different as the tears were around Big Brown, there was also no denying how much Dutrow loves his horse.

"I can't express my feelings, only that it's one of the most incredible feelings I've ever felt," he said. "And I can't wait to feel it again."

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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