Making hay


Big Brown trainer gallops into spotlight

On Rick Dutrow Jr.

May 23, 2008|By BILL ORDINE

Big Brown trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. is certainly making the most of his Andy Warhol 15 minutes. Already courting notoriety with admissions that he uses stanozolol (a steroid) on his horses and with boasts that Japanese-trained Casino Drive - presumed to be Big Brown's most formidable challenger in the Belmont Stakes - is facing "Godzilla," Dutrow was laying it on thick this week.

"He's got no chance of beating our horse," Dutrow said of Casino Drive on Wednesday. "I'll be in the winner's circle when they get to the quarter pole. That's how I feel. I don't see that this horse can beat him."

If this were a sport in which the chief competitors had two legs instead of four we would call that bulletin board material, but even though Casino Drive doesn't read the papers, in ancient Greek literature such hubris was a sure way to invite the wrath of the gods.

Softening Dutrow's unbridled optimism is Big Brown jockey Kent Desormeaux, who has some firsthand experience with Casino Drive. Desormeaux rode the colt to victory in the Peter Pan Stakes at none other than Belmont Park on May 9.

Interestingly, Casino Drive hung around in third or fourth place on the rail until the final turn when he split a couple of horses and kicked into another gear in the stretch to win by five lengths.

Sound familiar? With the exception that he generally uses the outside lane, Big Brown has come from behind to blow away the competition in his stakes races, including the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

"He's a phenomenal talent," Desormeaux said of Casino Drive, showing appropriate respect for his former mount. "We've got our hands full with this one."

I don't want to be too critical of Dutrow's comments. In the absence of a Triple Crown contender, horse racing suffers from an acute case of public apathy, so maybe that old-time Hollywood press agent bromide applies: "Any publicity is good publicity."

And Dutrow has been getting plenty of that. The Hagerstown native whose father was a famous trainer is hardly an unknown in thoroughbred circles, but you would have had to be a fairly knowledgeable race fan to have heard of him before this year's Kentucky Derby.

What sports fans are beginning to learn of Dutrow is not completely flattering. There's a laundry list of suspensions, many of them involving doping; he has been flagged for marijuana use, and disciplined for personal matters, including stolen check allegations.

Decades ago, a similarly checkered past for someone in the horse racing game might have meant he was considered "colorful" or a "Damon Runyon character." Today's more jaded society is less susceptible to the romanticism of angle-shooters.

But in the end, the horses just want to run fast. And regardless of what comes out of the mouths of the people around them, the horses have the final word.

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