Golden Edge by Ed Golden | If racing for 2008 ended today, Big Brown would be Horse of the Year. You dont have to twist Rick Dutrows arm to convince him of that.
The colorful, confident and outspoken trainer of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner says Big Brown has done enough to warrant the honor over defending Horse of the Year Curlin, based on what the two colts have achieved through nearly eight months of 2008.
Big Brown has victories in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Florida Derby and just last Sunday, the Haskell Invitational. Curlin won the $6 million Dubai World Cup and the Grade 1 Stephen Foster before finishing second in his turf debut in the Man o War Handicap.
Big Browns next race was undecided at press time, but whatever it is, it wont be against reigning Horse of the Year Curlin in the Woodward Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 30. Dutrow is, however, committed to the $5 million Breeders Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. Beyond the Woodward, Curlin could run on turf or dirt, according to Stoneside Stables majority owner Jess Jackson, a native Californian who has not ruled out the Breeders Cup Classic.
"Id have to say hes got his head in front right now," Dutrow said when asked if Big Brown was worthy of the title. "Id have to say that Big Brown is in front for Horse of the Year. I will go down on record saying that, yes. And, if our horse wins the Breeders Cup Classic, I dont know how they could not give it to him. I dont know how they could do it. He would have won the two biggest races in this country. How are you going to take Horse of the Year away from him?"
If personality enters into the voting, however, Big Brown could be on the outside looking in, due in large part to Dutrows disinclination to be politically correct.
The lone blight on Big Browns record this year is his controversial last-place finish as the 3-10 favorite in the Belmont Stakes, when he was attempting to become the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years. Other than that, hes been perfect, although his one and three-quarter length victory over a nondescript field in the Haskell was his narrowest margin of victory ever.
But Dutrow will take it, as he would Horse of the Year honors.
"I will feel good about it, if it happens, but its still a long way away," Dutrow said. "Right now, if they stopped racing, Id have to say hed get it anyway. Our horse has won the biggest race in the world; he backed that up with the Preakness; he won the Florida Derby and he just won the Haskell. Thats four Grade 1s in this country."
Big Brown won the Haskell on class alone. Even Dutrow thought the colt was beat when jockey Kent Desormeaux went to the whip at the quarter pole. Eventually, Big Brown responded, taking command inside the 16th pole under steady urging and winning in hand. But as of early last week, Dutrow was non-committal on his next race, be it the Pennsylvania Derby (Sept. 1), the Massachusetts Handicap (Sept. 20) or possibly a grass race.
"He looks to me like he came out of his race good, and theres not a solid plan (for his next race)," Dutrow said. Asked about rumors he would run in the Massachusetts Handicap or the Pennsylvania Derby, Dutrow said, "I havent heard that."
Big Brown didnt have the explosive acceleration through the stretch in the Haskell that he displayed in winning the Derby and the Preakness. I asked Dutrow if that was attributable to the fact that the colt was not running on the steroid known as Winstrol.
Dutrow laughed, then said, "I dont know about that," leaving it a question for the ages. Not in question is the Breeders Cup Classic as Big Browns ultimate goal.
"Yeah, without a doubt," said Dutrow, who saddled 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam to a sixth-place finish as the 11-10 favorite behind victorious Rock Hard Ten in the 2005 Santa Anita Handicap.
"I would want to come out last-minute, because I think that would be best for the horse," Dutrow said when asked about shipping. "But personally, I would love to go out there a month ahead of time so I can enjoy myself. I love California, but to give the horse his best chance to win the race, well come out the last minute."
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