Anyone who has spent time around Rick Dutrow probably would agree his disposition is described best with one word: unflappable. He doesn’t rattle easily, has an easy way of moving about and answers questions in matter-of-fact style, like he‘s been there, done it.
So, will he allow his first Kentucky Derby get the better of him, is there any anxiety about the pressure cooker he’s about to enter, will it alter the confidence he has in his training program?
That would be no, no and no.
From what he sees thus far, Dutrow believes, as does his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, who forsook a trip to Dubai for next Saturday’s World Cup festivities to ride Big Brown at Gulfstream.
Desormeaux’s agent, Mike Sellito, said it best a few weeks ago when he informed his regular customers and the rest of the racing world: “Where Big Brown goes, Kent Desormeaux will go.”
For Desormeaux on Wednesday, that meant a short trip north on I-95, west on 595, then north on Florida’s Turnpike, about 30 miles and a couple of furlongs by car from the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. He worked his Florida Derby mount five furlongs.
After working Big Brown five-eighths in a minute, like breaking so many sticks--“I told him not too fast, not too slow,”--Desormeaux got off the colt, walked into Dutrow’s office and said: “You know, the other day when he won, I was so high that I was saying crazy things, like he’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden. Now I think he really might be.”
Dutrow recalled Desormeaux’s words before showing the reporter his trainer’s log book, repeating exactly what he told the rider in response to his ‘best horse’ comment. First, some background:
Not long after the highly successful IEAH group outbid Darley Stable interests for Big Brown, he was turned over to Dutrow, who immediately pointed to the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Plans were scrapped when the colt developed a quarter crack. Back to the drawing board, Dutrow repeated the process this year but before the colt could return to the races he developed another quarter crack on the off side.
Following more rest and repair, Big Brown started shed-walking Feb. 1 until finally, on the 11th, with the crack almost completely healed, Big Brown began jogging two miles a day. Between Feb. 11 and Mar. 1, Big Brown had three workouts, all of the not-too-fast-not-too-slow variety: three furlongs, galloping out a half-mile; a half-mile, out five furlongs, and finally five furlongs, out three-quarters.
“I always thought he was better on turf but when I worked him in company and [older stakes horse] Diamond Stripes couldn’t stay with him, I knew I had a turf horse AND a dirt horse.
“He worked an unbelievable five furlongs--I couldn’t imagine he was anywhere near 100 percent--but was fit and ready to run,” Dutrow said. “I asked the racing secretary to write a race; turf, dirt, it didn’t matter. I told nobody about how I trained him. Then I called Bobby Frankel and said ‘listen to what I did, I must be crazy.’ Bobby‘s a friend and he has a way of [keeping things in perspective].”
A turf race was written for Mar. 5 but rain forced it to be rescheduled to a flat mile on the main track. After stalking a :22 4/5 and :45 1/5 pace, Big Brown easily took the lead approaching headstretch beneath a motionless Desormeaux, was six lengths in front in a twinkling and 12¾ lengths to the good at the end of a 1:35 3/5 mile.
Two starts, two wins, by a combined 24 lengths. “Mike [Ivarone, managing partner of IEAH] called the night he won. I was so excited I couldn’t talk.”
“[Big Brown] is so laid back, unassuming,” said his trainer. “He doesn’t make you pay attention to him. On the track he does what you want and we let him do what he wants. He’s starting to come around, figuring things out. Now he wants to do more but we just try to keep him in hand.”
The Florida Derby is Saturday, Mar. 29. “He’ll work next on the 25th, same thing, another five-eighths.” Dutrow is not allowing himself to become too excited, and has no interest in trying to get to the bottom of Big Brown. “I’m just trying to stay out of his way.”