Rick Dutrow knows there's a difference coming into Preakness with a horse that has won the Kentucky Derby and one that didn't even make it to the starting gate at Churchill Downs.
If anything, it might be a little easier for Dutrow coming to Pimlico for Saturday's race with Zetterholm than it was four years ago with Big Brown.
"When you win the Derby, you have to ship to Baltimore and have to get ready to run in two weeks," Dutrow said by cell phone from New York earlier this week. "It's kind of like you have to step back and hope not a lot goes wrong with your horse."
Everything went right for Big Brown in 2008 in Baltimore. Despite the controversy swirling around Duthrow amid allegations he was feeding the horse steroids, Big Brown charged past three frontrunners on the backstretch to win by more than five lengths.
Winning jockey Kent Desormeaux called the then-unbeaten Big Brown "a freak of a horse".
It is much different for Zetterholm. Dutrow didn't find out until last Friday that his horse would be in the field at the 137th Preakness. Dutrow said that he scratched Zetterholm out of the next day's Peter Pan Stakes and "put him in a van for Baltimore."
Though certainly lacking the reputation and bloodlines of Big Brown, Zetterholm comes into the Preakness having won his past three races, most recently at Aqueduct on April 6. It marked the second time since Dutrow began training Zetterholm earlier this year that the bay colt went from last-to-first in a race.
Never lacking for confidence, Dutrow feels pretty good about Zetterholm's chances.
"I have to be confident with our horse," Dutrow said of a horse that has been installed at Pimlico as a 20-1 shot. "He's doing really well. He's had plenty of time between races. He's won going around sharp turns before. He's coming off, I think, the best race of his life. I'm expecting for him to hit the board in the race."
Asked if would be surprised if Zetterholm — one of five "shooters" to run in the Preakness after skipping the Kentucky Derby — was the winner Saturday, Dutrow said, "I wouldn't be surprised if he won. But I wouldn't be surprised if he finished second or third."
It was much different for Big Brown.
"There's not a lot of training to do [after the Kentucky Derby]," Dutrow said. "I say you have to back off and catch your breath. When you have a horse in the Preakness that didn't run in the Derby you should have your schedule of what you want to do."
There is another difference for Dutrow coming into this year's Preakness. While rumors of steroid use followed the Maryland-born trainer back home four years ago — Dutrow was given a 15-day suspension in Kentucky three weeks after Big Brown finished an embarrassing and highly suspicious dead last going for the Triple Crown at Belmont — this time Dutrow appears to be fighting for his professional life.
A few days after Zetterholm runs in the Preakness, Dutrow's attorneys will be in Albany appealing a 10-year suspension and a $50,000 fine handed down last fall by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. One board member said that Dutrow had broken racing rules at 15 tracks in nine states dating back to 1979.
Among the charges was the fact that three unlabeled syringes containing drugs that can enhance a horse's performance were found in Dutrow's desk in his barn at Aqueduct back in November 2010. A few weeks later, one of Dutrow's horses tested positive for a potent drug after finishing first in a race at Aqueduct.
An initial 90-day suspension was increased to 10 years because of what was described as a "long history" of drug violations involving his horses.
Asked Wednesday if he felt he has become a poster boy for horse racing's dark side, Dutrow said, "Can't comment on that, babe."
But Dutrow said that he is not being treated like a pariah by his peers or anyone else in the business.
"It's not [like] that at all," he said. "I've had many of the top trainers, jockeys, owners, come to me with their complete support. Everybody in the racing world has come to me with their complete support. There's not been one person come to me to say anything the opposite way."
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, whose resume includes five wins at the Preakness and a virtually spotless record when it comes to violations, said that Dutrow and other trainers who've been accused of doping their horses — including current Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill — are hurting the sport's perception among the fans.
"There are days when I wish I wasn't a horse trainer. I would say I'm in the thoroughbred business," Lukas said after arriving with Optimizer on Tuesday. "Public perception is a lot stronger than reality. Anytime you have [jockey] Robby Albarado beating up his girlfriend, or Doug O'Neill getting questionable tests in California, or you have Dutrow with Big Brown, none of that helps us. It is always magnified."
Lukas said that Dutrow doesn't have to cut corners — or even cheat.