Like everybody else who watched the Florida Derby, my initial reaction to the dominating performance of Big Brown was, "Wow!"
Several factors made the five-length victory so impressive:
A) The fact that his time of 1:48.16 was less than a half-second off the track record, and was nearly a full second faster than Barbaro's winning time in 2006.
B) That he did it while overcoming a usually suicidal post 12 and had enough left to pull clear in the stretch even after running a :22.76 opening quarter and a :45.85 half-mile. That is exceptional.
C) That he made mincemeat out of what was thought to have been a very solid field, in just his third career start.
D) That his victory, and his two previous wins, seemed so effortless.
E) That despite winning from gate-to-wire, he has proven that he doesn't need the lead to win.
All of these things taken together prove that Big Brown is for real. Barring a similar performance by Pyro in the April 12 Blue Grass Stakes, Big Brown will be a well-deserving favorite in the Kentucky Derby. His talent is undeniable and his future, barring injury, is unlimited.
With all that being said, I am here to tell you, do not crown him your 2008 Kentucky Derby champion just yet. Contain your excitement for just a second and digest one cold, hard fact:
No horse in the last 93 years has won the Kentucky Derby off only three starts.
That is a pretty staggering statistic and it is not to be taken lightly. A number like 93 years is not there because of bad luck and it is not something that you can simply disregard. It is there for a reason.
As we all know, the Derby is completely different than any race there is. Many times, the best horse does not always win. Having 18-20 horses bumping and battling for position often changes the complexion of the race and that cavalry charge coming into the first can be intimidating to many.
While Big Brown has shown the ability to both rate and set the pace, there is no guarantee that he will get the ideal trip, and there is no telling how he will react if he gets jostled or doesn't have things go his way in the early going. And that is where experience comes in. There is no substitute for having that 2-year-old foundation. Look at Curlin. We are all seeing how good he has become, yet, he was not experienced enough to win the Derby.
Also, how many times have we seen horses come off dominating final preps and look nearly unbeatable entering the Derby only to flounder on the first Saturday in May? It happens all the time. Sweetnorthensaint (2006 Illinois Derby) and Point Given (2001 Santa Anita Derby) are the first that pop into my head. I'm sure you guys could name a dozen more examples.
Look, I am not here to tell you that Big Brown is overrated. You want to get excited about him, I'm all for it. I hope he becomes a star. Don't forget, I was one of the first to bring him to the public's attention a couple of days after his Gulfstream allowance romp on March 5.
All I'm saying is, let's not get crazy. I'm already hearing talk about Big Brown winning the Derby by seven lengths and even the Triple Crown. It's way too premature for any of that. Remember, less than a month ago the War Pass bandwagon was so crowded there was no room left. All it took was one bad performance for most of those people to fall off, and fall off hard.
This is horse racing. There are no guarantees. In the immortal words of Denny Green, "if you want to crown his *ss, go ahead."
I think I'll wait.
***By the way, if you are a Big Brown fan and would like to purchase his photos, or photos of some of your other favorites, go to www.bloodhorse.com/photos.
Also, if you haven't done it already, check out our March Into May contest, where you get to vote for the greatest Thoroughbred of all time.