Churchill Steam, or Derby Fog?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Only one horse mattered here this morning, the Big Horse, the Big Bay, the one and only early Derby favorite: Big Brown. He drew a crowd all morning at Barn 22, and there must have been 100 people trailing him as his exercise rider Michelle Nevin navigated him through the backside onto the Churchill Downs racetrack for the first time.

Now, this is where Churchill Steam often becomes the Derby fog.

In the 10 years I’ve been on the backside here, it is inevitable at this point in the week that rumors and conspiracy theories start bubbling up, usually about the favorite. Sometimes it’s nonsense — there was much consternation about the antics of Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, which were unfounded when he scored an easy Derby victory. Sometimes there’s a hint of truth — the next year, for example, whispers about Point Given not being quite right were rampant before he finished third fifth behind Monarchos. Long after Point Given captured the Preakness, the Belmont, the Haskell and the Travers, his trainer, Bob Baffert, confirmed that the colt had some minor ailments that might have kept him from his very best.

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