Below is a story that I wrote last week for Bloodhorse.com on Big Brown. If you haven't watched his race from March 5 at Gulfstream Park, do yourself a favor and check it out here. It is worth watching. This horse, if he stays healthy, will be a major factor in the Florida Derby, and perhaps on May 3.
By Jason Shandler
Up until a week ago Mike Iavarone had all but given up on the possibility that Big Brown would have a chance at the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Although his 3-year-old Boundary colt was certainly talented enough to belong on the Derby trail, Iavarone said, quarter cracks in both feet had kept him out too long. Time was simply running out.
"We had mentally written off the Kentucky Derby," said Iavarone, who along with Richard Schiavo co-owns IEAH Stables, a New York-based racing company that purchases and manages Thoroughbred partnerships. "He was so far behind that we had to be realistic about the situation. We were targeting the Calder Derby (gr. IIIT, April 26, on the turf)."
And then, in an instant, everything changed. Iavarone got a call from Big Brown's trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.
"Rick called me last month and said he just breezed him five-eighths and he galloped out," Iavarone continued. "He said he was more fit than he thought he was. He was about 80% at that point. So we decided to put him back in there."
Still with only one career start, an 11 ¼-length score on the turf at Saratoga back on Sept. 3, IEAH entered Big Brown in a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park March 5. The race was originally scheduled for turf, but because of rain was moved to the main track. The result was astounding.
Under Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown stalked the pace and then drew off in the stretch like a locomotive, winning by 12 ¾ lengths without ever being touched. The eye-popping performance changed everything.
"It blew all of us away," Iavarone said. "He is still only about 75 or 80% fit, and it was still a knockout. Kent said his :45 half (mile) felt like a :48. We immediately began to focus on the Triple Crown again.
"We knew he was a special horse when we bought him. We didn't buy him for any other reason than to think about the Triple Crown."
IEAH privately purchased a 75% interest in Big Brown from Paul Pompa Jr., (who retained the other 25%) a short time after the maiden romp at Saratoga. Big Brown was being pointed towards the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf before suffering the first of his quarter cracks in late September.
After giving him time off, Dutrow brought Big Brown back into training a couple months later, but an injury to his other foot in mid-January pushed things back even more.
Hopefully for IEAH, that is all in the past. The $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) March 29 at Gulfstream is next.
And if all goes well, it's on to Churchill Downs.
"If he runs the race we expect him to he'll be right there," Iavarone said. "If he can't class up then we'll have to regroup. He'll tell us if he's ready for Churchill. But right now we feel like it's just a matter of keeping him healthy and happy. He is a special horse."