05/15/2008 12:00AM

Optimistic, not overconfident


BALTIMORE - Kent Desormeaux knows what should happen Saturday at Pimlico. Big Brown, whom Desormeaux rode to a resounding victory in the Kentucky Derby, should easily defeat his 12 rivals in the 133rd Preakness and head to Belmont Park in three weeks undefeated and with a chance to win the Triple Crown.

Speaking from experience, however, Desormeaux knows what could happen Saturday at Pimlico. Big Brown could have a bad day, another horse could run the race of his life, and all those Triple Crown dreams are dashed in a matter of moments.

It happened eight years ago. When Fusaichi Pegasus, with Desormeaux up, won the 2000 Kentucky Derby, he became the first favorite to win the Derby since Spectacular Bid in 1979. In the Preakness, Fusaichi Pegasus was sent off a 1-5 favorite - the heaviest betting choice since Spectacular Bid. But Fusaichi Pegasus was upset by Red Bullet, who had skipped the Kentucky Derby after running second in the Wood Memorial.

"I pretty much thought he was a sure thing for a Triple Crown,'' Desormeaux said during a recent interview at Belmont Park. "The way he won the Kentucky Derby - the third fastest Kentucky Derby in history - I thought the Triple Crown was a lock. Unfortunately, on this occasion he never got out of a gallop. It says [he lost by] 3 3/4 lengths, but he was always beaten. When the doors opened he was beaten. I had no horse.

"He absolutely went for a gallop,'' Desormeaux said. "I hear it a lot in the industry. I think they call it a bounce. He just said 'Nah, you guys go ahead, I'll see you next time.' ''

Does Desormeaux fear that scenario with Big Brown?

Could be; who knows?'' he said somewhat matter-of-factly.

On the other hand, Desormeaux said he believes Big Brown is the best horse he has ever ridden. He said Fusaichi Pegasus is the horse Big Brown passed on the list.

"He surpassed him because of his mind,'' Desormeaux said. "Big Brown is more mindful, more intelligent. [Fusaichi Pegasus] was bored. He would annihilate his work company, and it would be like 'Okay, now what? Bring somebody who can run.' ''

Big Brown certainly can run. Desormeaux felt it the first time he rode him in a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream on March 5. He made sure to commit to the horse for his next start, the Florida Derby, a race Big Brown won by five lengths despite breaking from post 12 - the first time a horse won from either post 11 or 12 going 1 1/8 miles on the main track at Gulfstream since the strip was reconfigured in 2005.

In the Kentucky Derby, Big Brown had post 20, a position no horse had won the Derby from in 79 years. No problem. After stalking from sixth position, Big Brown made a move toward the leaders around the far turn, took the lead by the quarter pole, and charged home by 4 3/4 lengths.

"I've been saying how good he is and so has Richard,'' said Desormeaux, referring to Big Brown's trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr. "The public can witness it if you watch the overhead shot. I knuckled on him at the three-eighths pole; that was just to get him in position. I squeezed him for his best stride turning for home. It's so obvious the separation. Now you know what I'm telling you, what I'm feeling, that turn of foot.''

This will be the third time Desormeaux has come to the Preakness with a Derby winner. The first was in 1998 with Real Quiet. Desormeaux said Real Quiet was exhausted in the winner's circle in the Kentucky Derby, and he had some reservations about him in the Preakness. Real Quiet won the Preakness but was beaten a nose by Victory Gallop in the Belmont.

"This guy,'' Desormeaux said of Big Brown, "before I got to the winner's circle he was already cooled out. I pulled the saddle off him, he was dry as a bone. Unbelievably, with only four starts he has such stamina.''

Desormeaux's career has regained stamina since he moved his tack from Southern California to New York two years ago. Desormeaux had fallen out of favor with the California horsemen, his business suffered, and he needed a change of scenery.

Shortly after he came to New York, Desormeaux hooked up with agent Mike Sellitto, who recalled the first time he met Desormeaux at a dinner in New York City.

"He talked to me like he was 18 years old with the whole world in front of him,'' said Sellitto, who had Mike Smith's book at the time. "He has a work ethic that's unbelievable. If I tell him to be there at 5 a.m., he's there.''

Sellitto said he believes that Desormeaux benefits from changing his riding base throughout the season: New York to Kentucky to south Florida.

"I think that's a major thing, it keeps him fresh, he thrives on that,'' Sellitto said.

Desormeaux is only 38 - a three-time Eclipse Award winner who was inducted into the Hall of Fame at 34. Through Monday, he had ridden 4,973 winners and ranks eighth all-time in purse money won with $206,170,698. He said he still has plenty of goals remaining, including winning a riding title at Saratoga, something he missed by one winner last summer. He called that a tougher beat than losing the Triple Crown aboard Real Quiet.

"Getting beat in the Belmont was nothing compared to losing the riding title at Saratoga,'' Desormeaux said. "That has wrenched my gut ever since and I can't wait for that meet.''

Desormeaux has remained pretty healthy since being involved in a serious spill at Hollywood Park in 1992. He said his body feels good and mentally he's in a good place.

"The way it's going right now, as long as I can ride for the people I'm riding for now, I'll let my body tell me when to stop, and right now it's ready to go,'' he said.