He talked the talk and he walked the walk. Well, actually, Big Brown walked the walk for him, but you get the point.
The week prior to the Derby, I wrote on this blog that trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. had gone too far in proclaiming that he didn't see "how his horse could get beat." While I still believe Dutrow was being a bit too cocky and could have chosen his words more carefully, I am here to tip my hat to him. The man spoke his mind and his horse confirmed what he had been saying all week: Big Brown really is that good.
When I first wrote about Big Brown a couple of days after his allowance win at Gulfstream, I, like anyone who watched the race, knew he was special. What I did not believe was that he could do what he did considering the obstacles that he had to overcome: Only three starts leading up to the Derby, win from post 20, and rate as well as he did.
He proved me wrong - not by winning, because I knew he had a very good chance - but by dominating the way he did. From a purely racing standpoint, it was as uneventful of a race as we've seen in several years (since War Emblem went wire-to-wire). From the time he made his move coming into the turn, there was never any doubt who was going to win. As Dutrow said earlier in the week, Big Brown is in a class by himself.
So Rick, if you're reading, here's to you. You proved all the doubters wrong, and you deserve to gloat. Actually, as the week went on and I spent more time around him, Dutrow's comments offended me less and amused me more. He's a pretty funny guy. What I first perceived as arrogance gradually turned into nothing other than tremendous belief in his horse. And while the words "Dutrow" and "tact" will probably never be used in another sentence after this one, I have to admit, the man did grow on me as the days went by. He's pretty much a goofball.
Like everyone else, I look forward to seeing Big Brown in Baltimore. There is plenty of time to talk about the Preakness in the next 13 days.
Here are a few other random thoughts from Derby Day:
- My bizarre experience of the day was almost so random that I should have taken it as a sign to pound Big Brown at the betting window: While walking through the tens of thousands of people in the infield to meet a few friends between the seventh and eighth race, I suddenly hear a guy call out my name. "Hey Jason." After approaching but having no idea who it was, the man says, "Hey, it's Paul Pompa." Apparently, Pompa, who is a 25% owner of Big Brown and the man who deserves much of the credit for recognizing the horse's raw talent, recognized me from my video work on bloodhorse.com. Imagine my surprise - seeing the owner of the Derby favorite in the crowded infield a couple hours before the biggest race of his life. I had talked to Pompa on the phone a few weeks before, so we already knew each other a bit. We talked for a few minutes and I wished him luck. Apparently, he didn't need any.
- The tragic Eight Belles breakdown obviously put a big damper on the day for everyone. For me, it was one of the most surreal moments of my life. It went like this: I was standing along the rail, right near the finish line as the race ended. Like everyone else, I thought all the drama had ended. All of a sudden, co-worker Claire Novak grabs me and says "let's go." We run out on the track, me still not knowing where she is leading us, and we walk up the track. It wasn't until I saw the ambulance a minute later that I realized what Claire already knew. We made it up to the ambulance in time to see Eight Belles being loaded into the van. A few minutes later we saw a handful of people who I don't know, but were obviously somehow connected to Eight Belles, sobbing and consoling each other. Larry Jones, who also didn't not know what happened until a minute or two after the race, stepped onto the van just before it pulled away. It was as sad a moment as I can remember. I dejectedly walked back to the finish line as the other trainers, one by one, crossed my path in the other direction - all headed towards the backside, all of them shocked at what had happened. What a terrible tragedy.
- Can you ever remember the winner of the Wood Memorial going off at odds of 38-1? I can't, but that's exactly what Tale of Ekati went off at. Tells you how much the general public liked Big Brown, Colonel John and Pyro.
- Speaking of Pyro, was he even in the race? I know he was eighth, which isn't terrible, but I don't remember ever seeing him or hearing his name called.
- I was completely wrong about Court Vision. He was a non-factor.
- The highlight of my day? Standing in the paddock next to Hef and his three playmate girlfriends. Pretty cool stuff.
- My lowlight? Other than Eight Belles, obviously, was Race 2 on the Churchill card. I had the 9 horse (Lenawee) in an exacta with the 2 and the 5. Lenawee wins for fun at odds of 16-1, while 2 and 5 horse fade in deep stretch, costing me a big exacta. Should have wheeled Lenawee.
- Finally, congrats to Susan O'Connor of New Port Richey, Florida for winning the Derby Contest. She had Big Brown winning and Tale of Ekati in fourth. Surprisingly, of the hundreds of entries, nobody had Big Brown over Eight Belles, or Big Brown with Denis of Cork in third. I guess Im not the only one who took a bath on Derby Day!!