05/03/2009 11:00PM

Brash trainer missed at Churchill this year


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - I miss the Babe.

I was in Louisville for less than 24 hours when it became obvious something was missing from the Derby Week backstretch scene. Nothing against any of the trainers there, but nobody was saying his horse could not lose, explaining how nobody else's horse was all that good, aggravating many, telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Bob Baffert likes his colt, Pioneerof the Nile. That is usually a good sign, because Baffert usually has a great feel for his horse and the rest of the horses. D. Wayne Lukas likes his horse, Flying Private, but Wayne likes all of his horses and his liking Flying Private is not going to help the horse run any faster.

Everybody wants to know about Jeff Mullins and that syringe as well as Tom McCarthy's one-horse stable. Still, they have nothing on the Babe.

Think about it. Who ever showed up in Kentucky and said the Kentucky Derby was just another race and not all that hard a race to win.

Nobody, but the Babe.

Rick Dutrow wanted to be back in this Derby. But, as he said last weekend, "We're dead."

One Dutrow Derby prospect after another just did not have it. Unlike some trainers, Dutrow did not push it. He knows what he sees and he also knows this group is much stronger than last year's group. He had no interest in starting a 40-1 shot in the Derby.

So, the Babe is back at Aqueduct winning all the races. Or at least all the races that I don't bet on.

I caught up with him last Saturday in Queens. The man had won with 11 of his first 17 starters at Aqueduct. I thought it was time to get on the train.

After listening to some great Babe stories in the morning, it was off to bet on Plan in the fourth, first-timer Intrepid in the fifth, and This Ones for Phil in the Withers Stakes.

Plan ran fourth. Intrepid ran third. This Ones for Phil finished second with a ride Ramon Dominguez won't be including in his Hall of Fame resume. I finished last. Then, I had to deal with the Belt Parkway.

Still, I like hanging with the Babe. In a world where hardly anybody will tell you what he is thinking, Dutrow is an open book.

Did he say some really stupid things last spring? Absolutely. Did he get a few facts wrong? Yes. He decided to pick on Smarty Jones's trainer, John Servis, after the Preakness, but he got the facts wrong about Smarty's Belmont preparation. Servis just smiled and took the high road.

Many others did not smile. The Babe was the villain of the 2008 Triple Crown. By the end, hardly anybody was rooting for Big Brown in the Belmont Stakes. I thought the whole thing was silly. Everybody took all this far too seriously.

It was just one man telling the truth as he saw it. Everything he said about the Derby was true. Big Brown was a very good horse, and his competition was weaker than in a normal year. The Beyer Speed Figures told that story. Dutrow just said it out loud.

He was right about the Preakness. He also was right about the Belmont Stakes. Big Brown was much better than those horses.

What happened in the Belmont has already been picked over enough. Whatever went down that day, it does not change the fact that Big Brown laid over the competition.

What I wish was that Big Brown was a member of this generation. I think the Babe would still be confident, but I doubt he would be making the same pronouncements if the Derby field included such accomplished colts as Dunkirk, I Want Revenge, Pioneerof the Nile, and Friesan Fire.

We wouldn't end up with the steroid controversy. We would just be debating the relative merits of the horses.

Does anybody think Big Brown was the only horse in the 2008 Derby that was on a steroid regimen? The Derby winner was the only one we know about, because Dutrow was asked about it and he told the truth. It was legal, so, in his mind, he had nothing to hide. It just made him a bigger villain.

The whole steroid thing really was a manufactured controversy that helped the industry deflect attention from the much more serious drug issues while screaming about how they were going to ban steroids.

The uninformed started to compare Big Brown to Barry Bonds. Trying to explain the reality to anybody with just a passing knowledge of the sport was very difficult. What they heard was steroids and Big Brown. Nothing else mattered.

What almost everybody missed was that Big Brown was a really good horse who overcame a lot to dominate the Derby and the Preakness, win the former from the 20 post with just three lifetime races and win the latter about as easily as the race has ever been won.

When Big Brown was eased in the Belmont, everybody who was waiting (and hoping) for Rick Dutrow to fail got what the result they wanted. When they asked him what happened, he answered truthfully. He did not know.

The man with all the answers had none for that result. Everybody had theories. Nobody, not even the Babe, had answers.

Last May, the Babe had all the answers. He also had the best horse, which is how you usually have all the answers.