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Big Brown scares off rivals
It is with a mixture of sorrow and anticipation that the Triple Crown now marches on to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes on May 17. The overpowering victory by Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs, in which he got a Beyer Speed Figure of 109, left no doubt as to his superiority over the current crop of 3-year-olds. He was so dominant that, as of Monday, just one of his beaten rivals in the Derby was even under consideration to challenge him again at Pimlico.
Yet this Derby, for now, will be better known for the tragic death suffered by the filly Eight Belles, who finished second. Her death has overshadowed the performance of Big Brown, who - as an undefeated horse so clearly the best in the Derby - would usually be a captivating focal point for racing, with discussions as to whether he can end a 30-year drought in the Triple Crown.
With the exception of Barn 22 at Churchill Downs, where Big Brown is stabled, it was eerily quiet in the stable area Sunday morning. The trainers of the Derby also-rans were making plans to exit the Triple Crown chase, or perhaps await the Belmont Stakes on June 7. They were awed by Big Brown.
"Big Brown looked sensational," said trainer Eoin Harty, who sent out Colonel John to a sixth-place finish in the Derby. "The best 3-year-olds in the country took him on and didn't offer much."
"What a great horse, Big Brown," said trainer Paulo Lobo, whose Gayego finished 17th. "He was much, much the best horse."
Whereas 24 were entered in the Derby, and the maximum of 20 ran, the Preakness field will be much smaller; it might not even reach 10. Recapturetheglory, fifth in the Derby, as of Monday was still under consideration for the race, though Louie Roussel, his trainer and co-owner, said he and co-owner Ronnie Lamarque "will probably give him 30 or 45 days off."
The fact that many Derby runners are bypassing the Preakness is an indication of the respect in which Big Brown is held, but also betrays just how many horses in this year's Derby were in just for the sake of running.
"It just wasn't a strong Derby field other than our horse," said Big Brown's trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr.
El Gato Malo, Kentucky Bear, and Yankee Bravo are among those who bypassed the Derby and could offer a fresh challenge to Big Brown going 1 3/16 miles in the Preakness.
Big Brown will remain at Churchill Downs until May 14, when he will be flown to Baltimore, according to Dutrow.
"There's a flight from here that day," Dutrow said. "The only thing I might consider is putting him on a van and going up at the last minute. I wouldn't mind putting him in a box stall. Flying only saves about three hours."
Dutrow said Big Brown "ate everything" the morning after the race.
The Preakness would mark the first time Big Brown races with just two weeks' rest. Dutrow usually gives his horses far more time between races. But the calendar is dictating his schedule in this case.
"I don't think I'll be as confident," said Dutrow, who was extremely confident before the Derby. "I really do like training a horse up to a race, and I can't do it now. It looks like he's the best horse in the Preakness. I don't like coming back in two weeks, but I've got no choice."
El Gato Malo and Kentucky Bear both entered the Derby, but were denied spots in the field because of insufficient earnings in graded stakes races. The Preakness, which is capped at 14 runners, has a multi-tiered, convoluted earnings rule for oversubscribed fields that does not appear in danger of being invoked.
El Gato Malo, who was fifth as the favorite in the Santa Anita Derby, is stabled at Hollywood Park with trainer Craig Dollase. He is under consideration for the Preakness as well as the Lone Star Derby this Saturday.
Kentucky Bear was third in the Blue Grass Stakes. He trained sharply last week at Churchill Downs before heading to Keeneland, where he worked over the weekend. He is scheduled to travel to Pimlico this week and work there on Saturday. Jamie Theriot has the mount in the Preakness.
Yankee Bravo, who was fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, was not entered in the Derby because his earnings also were insufficient.
"When we saw he couldn't get in, we decided to just wait and run in the Preakness," Paddy Gallagher, the trainer of Yankee Bravo, said Monday morning.
Yankee Bravo is scheduled to work at Hollywood Park on Thursday morning and travel to Baltimore next week. Alex Solis will have the mount in the Preakness, Gallagher said.
Others under consideration for the Preakness, all of whom did not run in the Derby, are Behindatthebar, Giant Moon, Harlem Rocker, Stevil, and Tres Borrachos.
Stevil, fourth last time out in the Blue Grass Stakes, "is definite for the Preakness," trainer Nick Zito said Monday after Stevil worked a half-mile in 48.60 seconds at Churchill Downs. Zito said Rafael Bejarano would ride.
Tres Borrachos, third most recently in the Arkansas Derby, also is currently stabled at Churchill Downs. His trainer, Beau Greely, said Tyler Baze would have the mount in the Preakness.
Behindatthebar, the Lexington Stakes winner, is "probable" for the Preakness, while Withers Stakes winner Harlem Rocker is "possible," trainer Todd Pletcher said Monday. Pletcher said David Flores would ride Behindatthebar, and Eibar Coa would ride Harlem Rocker, if he runs.
Giant Moon, who was fourth in the Wood Memorial, will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez in the Preakness, trainer Rich Schosberg said.
The most prominent of the Derby also-rans are only temporarily getting off the Triple Crown trail. Denis of Cork, who finished third in the Derby, and Tale of Ekati, who was fourth, are both going to await the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. Anak Nakal, who was seventh, will also be pointed to the Belmont, Zito said.
Colonel John "will be sent to Keeneland for a few days" before a decision is reached on his next start, Harty said.
"He came back good," Harty said. "It looked like he took a funny step at the quarter pole. He had a lot of trouble out of the gate and had too much to do from there."
The sixth-place finish by Colonel John was the best of the nine horses in this Derby who had made their previous start on a synthetic surface.
- additional reporting by David Grening