05/02/2008 11:00PM

Big Brown proves Dutrow right

Matt Wooley/EquiSport
Big Brown powers to a 4 3/4-length victory in the Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It ain't bragging if you can back it up, and Big Brown backed up trainer Richard Dutrow's confident words at Churchill Downs on Saturday by rolling to a impressive victory in the 134th Kentucky Derby before 157,770 fans, the second-largest attendance in Derby history.

But the powerful win was marred by the fatal injury suffered by the filly Eight Belles, who finished a gallant second but then broke both front ankles galloping out after the finish. Her injuries were so serious that she had to be euthanized on the track as she lay stricken near the six-furlong pole on the clubhouse turn.

Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said there was "no possible way" Eight Belles could be saved. "That's an injury that's very painful," Bramlage said.

Eight Belles was trained by Larry Jones, who on Friday won the Kentucky Oaks with Proud Spell, and she was owned by the Fox Hill Farms of Richard Porter.

Big Brown completed 1 1/4 miles on a fast main track in 2:01.82. He became the first horse to break from a starting gate and win from post 20. The last horse to win from post 20, Clyde Van Dusen in 1929, did so with a walk-up start, before the starting gate was invented.

Big Brown ($6.80), the favorite, beat Eight Belles by 4 3/4 lengths, making Dutrow look like a prophet. Dutrow, who was running his first horse in the Derby, had said for weeks that he feared no horse in this Derby, and said he would back his words with a large wager. He said Big Brown was touting himself in the morning.

"He's been telling everybody watching him," said Dutrow, who put front leg bandages on Big Brown for the Derby. "All he needed was to like the track. We had a good post where nothing was gonna get in our way."

Dutrow said he made the comments he did in recent weeks because "I was asked the questions and Big Brown was telling me how to answer the questions."

Big Brown gave his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, his third victory in the Derby, following Real Quiet in 1998 and Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

"He's just a really intelligent horse and a pleasure to ride," Desormeaux said.

Denis of Cork rallied belatedly to finish third, 3 1/2 lengths behind Eight Belles. Tale of Ekati was fourth and was followed, in order, by Recapturetheglory, Colonel John, Anak Nakal, Pyro, Cowboy Cal, Z Fortune, Smooth Air, Visionaire, Court Vision, Z Humor, Cool Coal Man, Bob Black Jack, Gayego, Big Truck, Adriano, and Monba.

Big Brown had made just three lifetime starts, one last year and two this year, including the Florida Derby. He became the first horse to win the Derby with just three starts since Regret in 1915. Big Brown has now won all four of his starts, and now moves on to the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, at Pimlico on May 17 as the only horse capable this year of winning the Triple Crown. The Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes have been swept 11 times, but not since Affirmed in 1978. That 30-year drought is the longest since the Triple Crown was first won by Sir Barton in 1919.

Big Brown is owned by the IEAH Stables, a partnership headed by Michael Iavarone, and by Paul Pompa Jr., who owned Big Brown for his first race and sold a majority interest in the colt. IEAH and Pompa earned a first prize of $1,451,800 from a gross purse of $2,211,800. Pompa named the colt in honor of United Parcel Service, which is based here in Louisville.

Derby Day dawned cloudy and cool following heavy rain on Friday, but strong winds and abundant sunshine helped dry the main track. It was listed as sloppy for the first race, was quickly upgraded to good following the first race, and was listed as fast after the third race. The wind continued up through the Derby, providing a headwind down the homestretch and a tailwind on the backstretch.

Big Brown, starting from the outside stall, broke cleanly but was kept in reserve early by Desormeaux, who elected to surrender ground on the first turn. Big Brown was four paths wide on the first turn while Bob Black Jack, the early leader, clicked off fractions of 23.30 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.04 seconds for a half-mile.

"He broke listening to the crowd," Desormeaux said. "He was attentive to the cheers."

After the first time through the stretch, Big Brown "got into a very comfortable, cruising canter," Desormeaux said.

Even though he was wide and losing ground, Big Brown avoided some of the trouble that plagued several of his rivals early on. Pyro and Colonel John collided with one another leaving the gate, and Adriano checked sharply on the heels of rivals a furlong into the race when too many horses sought too few running lanes.

As the field advanced down the backstretch, Desormeaux let Big Brown fall a couple of lengths off the pace. But after six furlongs in 1:11.14, Big Brown began to roll up outside his rivals in search of the lead.

"I let him get a breather," Desormeaux said. "He was all within himself, not straining."

At the top of the stretch, Big Brown immediately surged to a commanding lead.

"He just started adding power to the stride he has, and he's got some power," Desormeaux said.