04/28/2008 11:00PM

Cameo appearance a real gem

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Only 16 minutes passed from the time Big Brown left his stall, trained, and returned to his barn Tuesday morning. But it was more than enough time to understand why trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. is so confident in the undefeated colt heading into Saturday's 134th Kentucky Derby.

Big Brown looked absolutely fabulous on his first morning of training over the Churchill Downs surface, galloping a flawless 1 1/4 miles under exercise rider Michelle Nevin. It was only a gallop, but the way he did it inspired one observer to comment, "he's in a different league'' compared with the competition.

Dutrow gave a similar indication.

"I feel very confident that if Big Brown breaks with the field I think he's going to run a big race,'' Dutrow said. "I just haven't seen any other horse with my eyes that I think can beat him.''

Big Brown's first day on the track, as well as a workout by Tale of Ekati, the Wood Memorial winner, were the items of note on a cold, cloudy morning. Entries were scheduled to be taken Wednesday morning and post positions assigned that evening. More than 20 horses were expected to be entered, thus the field was to be determined by earnings in graded stakes.

On Tuesday, the filly Proud Spell drew post 8 for Friday's Kentucky Oaks, removing the last possible variable that would have seen her enter the Derby. Denis of Cork, the Southwest winner, appeared to be the last horse to get into the Derby field. Barring an 11th-hour development, Halo Najib will not make the Derby field. On Tuesday, he worked five furlongs in 1:05.08 on the turf in preparation for Friday's Crown Royal American Turf.

Big Brown, owned by IEAH Stable and Paul Pompa Jr., arrived Monday afternoon on a flight from south Florida. Dutrow, who accompanied his horse on the flight, declined to meet with the press on Monday and seemed a little on edge. Whatever anxiety he may have been feeling had to subside after he watched Big Brown train Tuesday.

Followed by a horde of cameramen and press, Big Brown left his barn at 8:28 a.m. Eastern. After he stopped to pose for a few photos, Big Brown walked onto the track and quickly jogged to the clubhouse turn. Once he turned around, Big Brown jumped into a smooth-as-silk gallop with Nevin maintaining a strong hold while she had her legs fully extended and her torso bent in half over the colt.

A horse came up alongside Big Brown during the gallop, but Big Brown could have cared less. Big Brown barely took note of his surroundings, failing to show the curiosity many horses do on their first day at a new facility.

"When we jumped off he was on the muscle a little bit,'' said Nevin, Big Brown's regular exercise rider. "After he went a furlong and there was another horse there in front of him, he just settled right down, kind of tracking that horse beside him all the way around.''

"He felt great,'' Nevin added. "He switched his leads no problem, his ears were pricked, he didn't seem like he was bothered by anything around him. He wasn't looking around too much. He was looking straight ahead.''

Big Brown, who wore bell boots over his front feet, which have been plagued by quarter cracks, finished the gallop by the half-mile pole, quickly came off the track, and was back in the barn by 8:44.

Dutrow planned to gallop Big Brown on Wednesday and blow him out three furlongs on Thursday morning.

About 75 minutes after Big Brown got back to the barn Tuesday, Dutrow met with the press in the backside recreation center. Though his left leg was twitching, Dutrow said that had nothing to do with anxiety over the horse.

"I got you guys now,'' he said looking at the press.

Dutrow, who said he has been "dreaming about the Derby all my life,'' seemed to get more comfortable as the press conference went along, and had an interesting exchange when asked about the presence of the filly Eight Belles in the Derby field.

"I love it; are you kidding me? I love her being in the race,'' Dutrow said.

How come?

"I can't image there's a filly in this world that can beat Big Brown,'' he said.

The colts may have a tough time, too.

Tagg content with Tale of Ekati

Tale of Ekati was the only Derby runner to put in a workout Tuesday. Under exercise rider Kristen Troxell, Tale of Ekati worked four furlongs in 49.45 seconds, according to Daily Racing Form, galloping out five-eighths in 1:02.82.

Prior to the work, Tagg said he was looking for a move in 48 seconds, but he seemed content enough afterward.

"She said he was dragging her the whole way,'' Tagg said. "I probably had her too afraid to go too fast. He got enough out of it. He should be fit enough, he just ran and had three works.''

Tale of Ekati's worst race came on a sloppy track in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Tagg said he is hoping for a dry track on Saturday. Rain is in the forecast Friday night into Saturday morning, but dry conditions are expected for the afternoon.

- additional reporting

by Mike Welsch