Racing achieves blue blood status thanks to Big Brown

May 20, 2008 7:00 PM

Golden Edge by Ed Golden |

The lead item worldwide on CBS Radio Saturday at 4 o’clock was Big Brown winning the Preakness. The top story on ESPN’s SportsCenter that night was Big Brown’s Preakness romp and the likelihood that he would become the first horse in 30 years to capture the Triple Crown.

All he has to do is win the Belmont Stakes on June 7 to become the 12th horse in history to annex the Triple Crown and the first since Affirmed in 1978. There have been several recent near misses. Silver Charm won the Derby and Preakness in 1997, only to lose to Touch Gold in the Belmont.

Real Quiet’s nose loss to Victory Gallop in the Belmont after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown is indelibly etched in racing lore. The ill-fated Charismatic (1999), the distance-challenged War Emblem (2002) and, incredulously, Smarty Jones (2004) are other members of the Two Out of Three Club.

Big Brown and his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, who missed winning the Triple Crown on Real Quiet, have but one serious challenger in the mile and a half Belmont Stakes: Peter Pan winner Casino Drive, who won his debut in Japan prior to that.

The tomato cans Big Brown crumpled in the Derby and the Preakness won’t be back in the Belmont. At least they shouldn’t be. And it’s not Big Brown’s fault he’s had no competition in five lifetime victories in which his average winning margin is nearly eight lengths. He beats what they throw at him, like Man o’ War and Citation and Kelso and Secretariat did, and he does it with style.

Big Brown provides a PR infusion of incalculable value, a shot of vitamin B for a sport in declining health. A bay colt with finicky feet, Big Brown can do for racing what Tiger Woods did for golf, what Michael Jordan did for basketball and what Pele did for soccer: put it on the international map.

But he must win the Belmont to accomplish that. Otherwise, in a populous whose attention span lasts the duration of a blink, he will fade into memory.

In either instance, Big Brown’s appearance on the world’s stage will be fleeting, like a shooting star hurtling through space. His owners already have consummated a lucrative stud deal calling for the Kentucky-bred son of Boundary to be retired after a 3-year-old campaign that would include the Belmont, followed by the Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 23, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. Or, Big Brown could be retired if he wins the Triple Crown, because what more would he have to prove? So enjoy him while you might.

Big Brown’s 51/4-length caper in the 13/16-mile Preakness was even more impressive than his overpowering 43/4-length triumph in the 11/4-mile Derby, and not just by measure of winning margin. Again masterfully handled by Desormeaux, Big Brown accelerated as though being drawn by a massive magnet when Desormeaux released the throttle at historic Pimlico.

Even Desormeaux could barely believe the colt’s response. As Big Brown strode closer and closer to the finish line, the jockey looked over his shoulders more than a pickpocket on the lam with the booty already safely stashed. To the delight or consternation of PETA, Desormeaux never used the whip.

Thus it appears there is plenty in Big Brown’s tank to vanquish Casino Drive and others who might be foolhardy enough to tackle him in the Belmont. "It doesn’t look like he got on his belly today, so we should get the job done," said Big Brown’s guileless trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr. after the Preakness. "The horse keeps getting better."

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, insightful as always as analyst for NBC, which televised the Preakness, echoed that sentiment. "In 27 years of riding," he said, "I never saw a horse accelerate like this one."

The homestretch

The odyssey of Big Brown has several intriguing story lines, including Desormeaux’s 9-year-old son, Jacob, who is likely to be blind in 12 years from an eye disease known as Usher syndrome. Jacob, his older brother, Joshua, and their mother, Sonia, witnessed Big Brown’s Preakness romp. When NBC’s Donna Brothers asked Desormeaux how he felt about Jacob watching the Preakness, the rider replied with a sense of reflection: "I know he saw this one."

• The anti-horse racing Los Angeles Times did it again Sunday, playing the Preakness last on its lead sport page, behind a column on the WNBA (women’s professional basketball), an advance on the Lakers’ next playoff game, and an insignificant, early-season Angels-Dodgers game. Big Brown, poised to become the first Triple Crown winner in three decades, was slighted, but not a reference to Eight Belles’ euthanization following the Kentucky Derby, which was mentioned in the first paragraph of the Preakness story. Ugh!

• You want salt on that quote? Reade Baker, trainer of Kentucky Bear, told NBC before the Preakness: "I think Big Brown will bounce (regress)." Kentucky Bear finished sixth in the field of 12, beaten 14 lengths.

• Bay Meadows has closed after more than 70 years, but to accommodate horsemen, its barn area will remain open until November.