Hello, nice to see you, goodbye.
Obviously, I knew more about the reputation than the man; getting ruled off for abusing cocaine, a handful of suspensions related to the use of permitted medications, and empirical visuals that most of his horses run “too good.”
But midway through our interview inside his Palm Meadows barn this winter, I was getting good vibes off the guy. That means something to anyone born under the sign of Pisces.
Dutrow looks you in the eye, answers questions directly, saying that he deserved some of the penalties he received, but not all of them. There wasn’t even a hint of trainer-speak from Dutrow. He was a breath of fresh air.
In those 30 minutes, I developed a newly found respect for him as a horseman because of his game plan, the confidence he showed in his approach to training, but with enough humility to call his Hall of Fame buddy, Bobby Frankel, not so much for advice but as a sounding board.
Frankel told him to have confidence to do just what he was doing, that no one knew what the horse needed better than his trainer.
That was minutes before I met and fell in love with the coolest, neatest and friendliest Triple Crown aspirant ever to look through a bridle.
As the Triple Crown chase gained momentum, so did Dutrow’s confidence. He knew what he had, he assessed the competition accurately and made a physical and emotional commitment to one of about 200 horses under his care.
Even with the re-emergence of a quarter crack--not a serious ailment but popping up at a serious time--Dutrow has not been deterred from speaking his mind about Big Brown’s chances to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown champion.
A “forgone conclusion,” he said.
Confidence is a block upon which you build. And Big Brown’s trainer has become a poster boy for confidence. But when does confidence become over-confidence? At what point does good will turn into negative energy?
Dutrow’s remarks about the connections of Smarty Jones, saying that John Servis over-trained him for the Belmont, and that Stewart Elliott over-rode him to an 11½-length victory margin the Preakness were indelicate, at best. At worst they were way over the line.
But as far as taking stock of Casino Drive when he came off the track Thursday morning, saying that in no way could the Japanese star beat Big Brown given what he saw, Dutrow has earned the right to express that opinion.
Dutrow is not expressing any opinions that differ from what you could hear any trainer standing at the rail over their early morning coffees. Only most wouldn’t say on for the record.
Of the seven deadly racetrack sins, jealousy wins by open lengths every time.
While Dutrow might not have incurred serious wrath from most racing and casual sports fans, he is starting to turn good karma into bad. Because of his achievements and personality, fans have warmed up to Big Brown, pulling for him to make history. But if Dutrow keeps this up, that could change.
Sometimes Dutrow thinks very well on his feet. When asked whether he thought a rival jockey would sacrifice his chances just to get “the big horse” beaten, he said he couldn’t imagine why any jockey would do something like that. C’mon.
Apparently Dutrow’s forgotten Jerry Bailey’s glaringly aggressive ride on Eddington in Smarty Jones’s Belmont, or might not be old enough to remember seeing Angel Cordero Jr.’s exhibition aboard Shake Shake Shake in the 1978 Travers, won by Alydar via disqualification.
Should Big Brown fail to make history, seeing Dutrow get his comeuppance would be a satisfactory emotional hedge for many. And that’s too bad. Despite all of this, there’s still something about Dutrow that doesn’t offend me the way trash talking in any other sports do.
I realize that I probably wouldn’t feel this way if I hadn’t met Dutrow because a horse named Big Brown, at a time when a two-race wonder was trying to make history by winning the Florida Derby from post position 12.
Meanwhile, my 92-year-old Sicilian nana is rooting for Dutrow to win the Triple Crown because she appreciated the fact that he turned his life around. That alone is good enough for me.
But he’s already been good for racing. Do you think, for instance, that radio sports talkers Mike Francesa and Chris Russo would have spent two hours on horse racing a week in advance of the Belmont if Dutrow weren‘t a hot button issue?
But let me give Big Brown’s trainer some advice when he meets with the media this morning outside Barn 2 at Belmont Park. Try to keep ancillary damage to a minimum. Enough already.