Big Brown charged to the lead turning for home and then cruised down the stretch to win the Preakness on Saturday, still perfect and squarely pointed toward thoroughbred racing's first Triple Crown in 30 years.
"We should have enough horse to get the job done," said trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., who had predicted his bay colt would win the first two legs.
Just as he did two weeks ago in a Kentucky Derby marred by the breakdown of Eight Belles, the colt named for UPS delivered another stunning win, this time by 5 1/4 lengths. Macho Again was second and Icabad Crane was third.
The Belmont Stakes will be run June 7. It's been three decades since Affirmed swept that race along with the Derby and Preakness to give racing its 11th Triple Crown winner.
Big Brown broke from the middle of an undistinguished pack and jockey Kent Desormeaux took him off the pace. He was fourth the first time past the grandstand, behind pacesetter Gayego. He moved up to third on the first turn, where he stayed all the way down the backstretch.
"My whole job in that first half-mile was to keep his face clean," Desormeaux said. "There's not a grain of sand on most of his body."
The decisive moment came approaching the final turn, when Desormeaux angled Big Brown out three-wide for clear running room. As he hit the top of the stretch, Desormeaux simply crossed the reins to let Big Brown know it was time to take off.
He didn't even need the whip in the stretch.
At least twice, Desormeaux ducked his head under his right arm to check on the fading competition. There was no need. Big Brown was in total control.
"I looked between my legs, under my arms, they were eight back," he said. "I just stopped riding, reeled him in and just made sure he didn't pull up. He just kept kicking his legs up and striding for the wire."
He added: "What a lovely ride I had."
In the Derby, Big Brown started on the far outside of 19 horses and used an explosive finishing kick to win by 4 3/4 lengths, the tightest margin in his 5-0 career. He's won those races by a combined 39 lengths.
The muscular colt joined Majestic Prince (1969), Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew (1977) and Smarty Jones (2004) as undefeated Derby and Preakness winners.
"He's just shown up every step, every way," Dutrow said. "I just can't imagine him not showing up for the Belmont."
Big Brown is the first 3-year-old since Smarty Jones to head for the Belmont Stakes with a triple try in play.
The winner covered 1 3-16 miles in 1:54.80. Sent off at 1-5 odds, he paid $2.40, $2.60 and $2.40. Macho Again returned $17.20 and $10.40, while Icabad Crane paid $5.60.
The victory put the sport's focus back on racing after two weeks of frenzied debate about safety and breeding following Eight Belles' catastrophic breakdown. His dominating performance came in front of a crowd that surely breathed easier after all 12 runners returned safely. On the same track just two years ago, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke down early in the race.
The Preakness win also means Big Brown's connections — Dutrow, Desormeaux and principal owners Michael Iavarone and Richard Schiavo who once worked on Wall Street — are headed back to their New York base with a horse that could make history.
Big Brown again backed up Dutrow's boast that the Preakness was his race to lose and if the colt broke out of the starting gate cleanly, he would win.
Dutrow got his hands on the silver Woodlawn Vase at Pimlico, where his late father Richard Sr. was a leading trainer in the 1970s and his brother Anthony saddled horses Saturday.
It was an especially meaningful trip to the winner's circle, since Dutrow had accompanied his father on past Preakness days before the two fell out over the younger Dutrow's drug use and blown chances. In the past, his training license was revoked for personal drug use and he was suspended for doping horses.
The Preakness was also a homecoming for Desormeaux, the Cajun jockey who launched his career in Maryland in 1987. Cheering him on were his wife and two sons, including 9-year-old Jacob. The boy was born with Usher syndrome, a genetic disorder that stole his hearing at birth and is slowly robbing him of his sight.
In 1998, Desormeaux rode Real Quiet to wins in the Derby and Preakness only to be denied Triple Crown immortality when Victory Gallop stuck his nose in front at the wire in the Belmont.
Big Brown earned $600,000 for the win and boosted his earnings to $2,714,500 for Iavarone and Schiavo, co-owners of IEAH Stables, and Paul Pompa Jr. Pompa named Big Brown in honor of UPS, a major client of his Brooklyn trucking business.
The festive mood at Pimlico after the race was in sharp contrast to the scene at Churchill Downs two weeks ago. Eight Belles, the filly who took on 19 colts and finished second, broke both front ankles while galloping out and had to be euthanized on the track, the first time that has happened in the Derby.
It was the second time a horse had broken down in the past five Triple Crown races. Barbaro shattered his right rear leg shortly after the start of the 2006 Preakness, stunning more than 100,000 fans, many of whom cried at the sight of the Derby winner taken away in an ambulance. Barbaro was euthanized eight months later because of laminitis, an often fatal hoof disease.
There was no sadness Saturday, only giddy anticipation that racing might see another first Triple Crown winner at long last.