01/13/2010 12:00AM

Letting the horses do the talking

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PHILADELPHIA - The 2008 Triple Crown was dominated by the personality of Rick Dutrow. It was about the trainer more than it was about Big Brown.

If Rick's brother Tony gets one of his two top 3-year-olds to the Kentucky Derby, it is going to be about the horse, not the trainer.

Rick was a lightning rod because he has no filter. He just says what he thinks, consequences be damned.

Rick's pronouncements went against the long-held trainer code of talking while saying virtually nothing. I loved it. He was certainly great copy.

Tony is not like that. But, if you ask him about one of his horses, he will tell you the truth with an analysis that is almost always spot on.

Tony Dutrow was a Maryland lifer until it became obvious that the Maryland circuit was headed on a road to nowhere. He came to Philadelphia Park with the promise of slot machines, settled his family in the beautiful Bucks County town of Newtown a month after the slots bill passed in July 2004, and promptly established himself as a force at Philly Park.

Shuttling back and forth between Philly Park and Aqueduct, Dutrow won everywhere from Saratoga to Laurel Park. He won 153 races last year, and his 28 percent strike rate is reasonably typical for him. With great success came notice and the chance to train even better horses.

Dutrow now has so many top horses in his stable that, for the first time, he has a string in south Florida, 28 strong, with two 3-year-olds on the road to the Derby. He has a dozen for the powerful Edward Evans stable and another dozen for Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm. And if you know anything about those two men, you know they want to win the Derby.

Anybody who saw A Little Warm win his maiden at Philly Park on Nov. 27 knew this was no ordinary colt. A Little Warm got an 89 Beyer Speed Figure that day, in his fourth lifetime start. He did not lose the other three races because he was without talent. He just wasn't ready.

Well, A Little Warm was very ready in last Saturday's Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The colt ran around the field and earned a lifetime-best 100 Beyer, stamping himself as a horse to take very seriously. If all goes according to plan, he will be seen next in the Feb. 20 Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream.

"That's the most logical race," Dutrow said. "It's seven-eighths and it gives him some time. Stretch him out and see just how far he will go.

"I'm not going to talk like I know what's going on, because I don't. I do want to give the horse an opportunity at two turns. That has to be tried."

Evans owns A Little Warm, a colt that could definitely make it to Kentucky.

So could Winslow Homer, a colt owned by Porter. Winslow Homer won his maiden in his second start, Aug. 22 at Saratoga, earning an 84 Beyer. Dutrow brought the colt back in a Philadelphia Park allowance on Nov. 20. The colt won by 12 1/2 lengths and got a 92 Beyer going a mile around two turns.

"He's been on our Derby trail since mid-summer," Dutrow said. "We'll see what happens, but everything we have done with Homer has been in the interest of him and a Derby hopeful."

The plan is to run Winslow Homer in the Jan. 23 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream.

"That's the starting point," Dutrow said. "We're not excited about a one-turn mile with this horse, but that will get him going. From then on, it will be all two-turn races, and he excels at two turns."

If you are a player, the best thing about Dutrow's horses is that there are rarely any surprises. What you see on paper is almost always exactly what you get.

And, if you are good at reading between the lines, you can decipher even what is less obvious.

Just a half-hour before A Little Warm won in Florida, Dutrow had a pair of maidens in the fifth at Philadelphia Park. King Rock had the figures. Big City Deputy had a very tough trip in his debut. They ran one-two. The exacta paid $42.80.

Dutrow has won enough races. What he hasn't won are the television races.

"At 51 years old, having done nothing but horses my entire life, the opportunities that are given to me, especially this year, now is the true test of my ability to handle nicer horses," Dutrow said. "I have no proof that I can do it, so all this is heavy on my mind and I am wide awake in putting forth my very best effort in trying to help these horses along their way."

That preceding paragraph would explain a difference between Rick and Tony Dutrow. And so would this.

"I'm truly given opportunity and now I need to perform," Dutrow said. "I realize it's not about me; it's about the horse. But I'm the one that's needing to help that horse."

Rick has done it because he got the chance. Now, Tony is getting the chance.

"If you are able to train for these gentlemen, you are going to win big races," Tony Dutrow said. "There's no gray area. Those guys are going to put the big horses in your stable. You just have to be the lucky guy that's got the right barn for them."