Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Special Performance By a Special Horse

HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., Mar. 30, 2008---And I Think It’s Going To Be All Right. Yeah, The Worst Is Over, Now the morning sun is shining like a Red Rubber Ball.

You hear the term ‘special horse’ a lot, a lot more often than you get to see one. And so we went on the road to find one and, this time, we did.

In the run-up to the Florida Derby, we knew we had to get a look at the horse that ran the fastest Equiform figure at a mile or longer by a three-year-old this year. Frankly, we were a little curious about Rick Dutrow, too.

As a prolific winner in New York, I should know Dutrow better, but I don’t. That’s my bad. Maybe it’s because I’ve been conditioned distrust trainers who win at 25 percent or better, meet after meet, year after year.

To me, it’s not so much about super-trainers as it is about super-vets. Curiously, a trainer’s success rate falls right in line with the cost of veterinary care. The difference between a 10-15 percent trainer and a 25 percent trainer is the difference between a $1,000-a-month vet bill and a $2,500 statement.

And there’s nothing insidious about that. In life, you get what you pay for. Of greater import may be that the Rick apple, like the Tony apple, didn’t fall far from the legendary Richard Dutrow tree.

As opposed to horse trainer, Rick Dutrow is a horseman. Almost anyone can be a trainer but it takes more than a piece of paper to win three million-dollar races on two continents a half a world apart on the same day.

There’s no wagering in Dubai. Neither is there a permissive medication policy similar to the one in place on this side of the Atlantic. Drug policies are very strict almost anywhere else in the world.

Dutrow trainees Benny The Bull and Diamond Stripes, impressive winners on the World Cup under-card, ran medication free. Between those two and Curlin, American racing, despite its issues, was radiant as a beacon in the United Arab Emirates Saturday.

Diamond Stripes couldn’t warm up Florida Derby winner Big Brown in their company workout a few weeks ago at Palm Meadows. “You may not believe it but that workout meant something,” Dutrow said following Big Brown’s blow-out victory.

“Diamond Stripes is a good older horse. It takes a special young horse to do what this colt did.” And a clever horseman to be savvy enough, and confident enough in his own horse, to stay out if his way.

“I felt the only way the horse could get beat was if I did something wrong or he got in trouble,” said an emotional Dutrow after collecting his post-race thoughts. “I knew after he went around those horses on the first turn it was over.”

Dutrow wasn’t bragging. It’s not bragging if you know what your horse can do. But it’s not clear even now whether Dutrow knows what Big Brown‘s limitations are.

Rick Dutrow is in awe of Big Brown.

“Today is [the highlight of my career],” was how Dutrow described his multi-million dollar accomplishment. “I’m so excited I don’t know what to say.”

Excited like the enthusiastic crowd lining the rails at Gulfstream Park that welcomed the big colt back with hoots and hollers, and an enthusiastic Kent Desormeaux, who threw his helmet in the air in celebration and will go wherever Dutrow sends Big Brown.

Next stop Kentucky.

“He’ll stay where he is,” Dutrow said. “He likes it [at Palm Meadows]. I’ll work him five-eighths when he needs to work then, depending on the weather, I’ll make my move.”

What makes Big Brown special is his class. At one point, Big Brown reached down, grabbled the rope holding his Jolly Red, and threw the tether ball over to the visitor’s side of the webbing. It was the first time I recall seeing a racehorse act with equine body language that said ‘play with me.’ The only thing missing was Simon & Garfunkel and a transistor radio.

He’s just a love, with an easy-going class about him. People ask all the time, “who do you like?” I usually give them my standard Fotias-type response: “Ask me at three minutes to post time.” You have to be objective to do this job the right way. Big Brown wants to make you break that rule.

“When this horse reached the quarter pole in Saratoga, I picked up the phone, called Rick, and said: ‘turn on your television right now, I have to own this horse. I never saw a two-year-old break his maiden around two turns like that’,” said IEAH Stable managing partner Michael Iavarone.

“He just has so much class. When we had him vetted, he stood absolutely motionless for 45 minutes while we did an ultra-sound. He let us do whatever we wanted,” added Iavarone.

Picked out as a yearling by Dr. Michael Galvin, HRI has learned that International Equine Acquisitions Holdings purchased a three-quarter interest for $2.25-million, original owner Paul Pompa Jr. retaining a 25 percent share. Darley Stable, represented by trainer Kairan McLaughlin, was the under-bidder.

Obviously, special horses don’t grow on trees.

Written by John Pricci

Accompanying Photo Gallery to "Racing to the Kentucky Derby".
Comments (6)

BallHype: hype it up!

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