BALTIMORE – Rick Dutrow Jr. is nearly as confident that undefeated Big Brown will win the Preakness on Saturday as he was before the colt's dominating win in the Kentucky Derby.
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Nothing changed the trainer's mind after watching the muscular horse out on the track for a short run through the stretch in the pre-dawn hours Saturday to keep him fit and on edge for his race later in the day.
"I saw exactly what I saw and it was beautiful," Dutrow said.
Big Brown hit the track at 5:33 a.m. EDT and was off only 11 minutes later. Dutrow and exercise rider Walter Blum were among the handful of people watching one final short jaunt through the stretch before Big Brown does it again in front of at least 100,000 fans in the early evening.
"I did what we wanted to do and so did he," Dutrow said.
Big Brown got one last bath, shortly after 6 a.m.
If Big Brown can back up his trainer's big talk again, he'll set himself up for a Triple Crown try in three weeks in the Belmont.
"We're looking to run big here and then go on to New York," Dutrow said.
It's been 30 years since Affirmed swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become horse racing's 11th Triple Crown winner. The sport is starved to anoint a new king, one who would continue running beyond the spring classics and bolster public interest that wanes outside of racing's four major events.
"I would hope it would do a lot for the game," Dutrow said about a possible Triple Crown. "I can tell you what it would do for my game. I'll move way up."
But first Big Brown needs to deliver against 11 rivals in the 1 3-16-mile Preakness. He was the overwhelming 1-9 favorite in early wagering Friday.
"It's our race to lose," Dutrow said.
Big Brown is 4-0 in his short career, clobbering the competition by a combined margin of more than 33 lengths. He likes to run on the lead under jockey Kent Desormeaux, and Dutrow said the colt's success rests on how he leaves the starting gate.
"If he breaks clean, things will be right there for him," he said. "He is the best horse in the race and if he breaks with the field, he'll win."
Without openly wishing bad luck on Big Brown, every other Preakness trainer is counting on the Derby winner regressing off his brief two-week rest and their horses running the race of their lives.
"David would have never slayed Goliath if he had put his slingshot away," said Ken McPeek, who trains long shot Racecar Rhapsody.
"Weird things happen all the time. Horses stumble or the race doesn't set up for him or the rider makes an early move that was too soon and the next thing you know, you've got a double-digit or triple-digit price on the board."
If Big Brown wins, Edgar Prado can only think what might have been.
The Hall of Fame jockey was set to ride Big Brown in his career debut in September at Saratoga, but Prado was injured two races beforehand. Jeremy Rose filled in that day for Big Brown's 11 1/4-length victory on the turf.
When it came time to name a rider for Big Brown's 3-year-old season, his owners chose Desormeaux.
"I was very disappointed," said Prado, who will ride long shot Riley Tucker. "I hope he runs his A-plus and Big Brown runs his B-plus."
A victory by Big Brown would quiet the skeptics, at least until the grueling Belmont in three weeks.
"If this horse beats me, I'll know he's the best 3-year-old around still standing," said Reade Baker, who trains long shot Kentucky Bear. "If he's going to be a big-time superstar, let him run with (Horse of the Year) Curlin this fall, and I'll be right in line to tip my hat to him."