05/18/2008 11:00PM

Big Brown untouchable in Preakness

Barbara D. Livingston

BALTIMORE - Heck of a job, Brownie.

Big Brown, the Kentucky Derby winner, took another huge step toward the Triple Crown on Saturday when he remained unbeaten while crushing his 11 rivals in the 133rd Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.

Big Brown ($2.40), the favorite, had a far different trip than he did two weeks ago in Louisville, but showed his versatility by sitting inside horses early before swinging out for the same powerful run on the final turn that he made in the Derby.

With the Derby and the Preakness now in his rear-view mirror, Big Brown moves on to the June 7 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in an attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Affirmed in 1978. That 30-year drought is the longest since the Triple Crown was first won by Sir Barton in 1919. If Big Brown wins the Belmont, he will be the first unbeaten Triple Crown winner since Seattle Slew in 1977.

Big Brown vanquished 19 challengers in the Derby, and 10 newcomers - plus Derby also-ran Gayego - in the Preakness. Several horses will be awaiting him in the Belmont, including Denis of Cork and Tale of Ekati, who were third and fourth, respectively, in the Derby. He also will face the Japanese runner Casino Drive, who won last week's Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont to set up a classic East vs. Far East confrontation.

"All Japanese people thought Godzilla was dead," said Big Brown's colorful trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr. "They're gonna find out he's not dead."

With Kent Desormeaux up, Big Brown won the Preakness geared down by 5 1/4 lengths. Macho Again rallied for second, with Icabad Crane third, another half-length back, after encountering traffic trouble on the final turn. Racecar Rhapsody was fourth and was followed, in order, by Stevil, Kentucky Bear, Hey Byrn, Giant Moon, Tres Borrachos, Yankee Bravo, Gayego, and Riley Tucker. Behindatthebar was scratched Friday.

Big Brown completed 1 3/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:54.80. He could have gone faster, but both Desormeaux and Dutrow wanted to save something for the Belmont, which will be Big Brown's third race in five weeks.

"I know we have horse left," Dutrow said. "There's no question. Kent never hit him with the stick, from what I could see. Kent maybe asked him for a sixteenth of a mile to put the race away, and then he glided to the wire. I'm under the impression he's going to be awful tough to beat in the Belmont."

The Preakness was witnessed by a festive ontrack crowd estimated at more than 100,000. Outside the gates, though, animal rights protesters gathered, clanging bells in memory of Derby runner-up Eight Belles, the filly who was euthanized after suffering catastrophic injuries in the Derby. There was great anxiety in the sport over this nationally televised day of racing, but the 11 races preceding the Preakness, and the Preakness itself, all were cleanly run, with no horses being injured.

Big Brown had a busy day, both on and off the track. In the morning, more than 12 hours before the Preakness, Dutrow elected to give Big Brown a quick blowout through the stretch. He breezed two furlongs in 25.80 seconds.

Then Saturday afternoon, it was announced that a portion of Big Brown's breeding rights had been purchased by the Three Chimneys Farm of Robert Clay. Three Chimneys is also the home of Smarty Jones, who won the Derby and Preakness in 2004, then finished second in the Belmont and never raced again.

Big Brown was initially owned by Paul Pompa Jr., who sold 75 percent of Big Brown to the IEAH Stables partnership, headed by Michael Iavarone, following Big Brown's debut win last September at Saratoga. Big Brown was trained that day by Patrick Reynolds, but then was turned over to Dutrow, for whom he has now won four times.

The owners of Big Brown picked up some pocket change in the Preakness, a first prize of $600,000 from a total purse of $1 million.

Big Brown was a prohibitive favorite. He had won his first four starts by a combined 33 3/4 lengths. The shortest-priced favorites in Preakness history were Citation in 1948 and Spectacular Bid in 1979, both of whom were 1-10. There was so much money bet to win on Big Brown that he actually paid more to place ($2.60) than to win, and his show price ($2.40) was equal to his win price.

Big Brown broke cleanly from post 6, but both Tres Borrachos, who was expected to be one of the pacesetters, and Kentucky Bear broke poorly. Gayego, starting from post 11 and wearing blinkers for the first time, was sent to the lead by jockey Mike Smith, and crossed over after a quarter-mile in 23.59 seconds.

When Gayego moved to the rail, jockey Edgar Prado aggressively ranged up outside with Riley Tucker, putting Big Brown behind horses while third along the rail. That trip was far different from the Derby, when Big Brown stayed outside the whole way.

As the field moved down the backstretch, following a half-mile in 46.81, Desormeaux was able to angle Big Brown to a path three lanes off the rail, outside both Gayego and Riley Tucker. Big Brown then switched off, and cruised along in hand, awaiting Desormeaux's cue.

Desormeaux gave it to him at the top of the stretch. "Bye bye," Desormeaux said as he narrated a replay on NBC's telecast.

And now it's on to the Belmont, the longest of the Triple Crown races at 1 1/2 miles.

"I think the winner's the real deal," said Graham Motion, the trainer of Icabad Crane. "The only shot he has to get beat in the Belmont is if he doesn't handle the trip. We might take another shot at him."

- additional reporting by David Grening