Friday, April 18, 2008
Big Brown, Number One With A Bullet
CLIFTON PARK, NY---Knowing that she was extremely fortunate to get a window table on Florida Derby day, the first thing Andrea DeLong noticed were the brown hats. More specifically, the Big Brown hats. They were everywhere.
DeLong also was aware that the IEAH ownership group, about half a million strong, or so it must have seemed, were seated all around her. Minority partner Paul Pompa Jr., not without his people, was there, too. It was a scene right out of “The Attack of the Big Brown Hats,” coming to a Kentucky Derby prep near you.
It wasn’t long before DeLong, who owns a production company and is an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, noticed there was something outer worldly taking place around her, something magical, almost mystical.
The Florida Derby was six hours away but that didn’t stop the IEAH crew and trainer Rick Dutrow from enjoying their morning immensely. It’s not every day you win a $2-million race before lunch. But there was Benny the Bull, roaring down the straight, winning the Golden Shaheen at a racetrack in the desert a half-world away from Hallandale Beach.
Dutrow won a second seven-figure race in Dubai with Diamond Stripes, an older, multiple stakes winner. Diamond Stripes is a good horse but one that couldn’t keep pace with Big Brown in their company workouts as the three-year-old was preparing to make an unlikely leap from one-turn preliminary allowance winner to nine-furlong Grade 1 performer--from post 12 at Gulfstream Park, which never happened before.
“There were all these people around me…” DeLong remembered. “There was Dutrow’s morning, the Adena filly [Shirley Jones winner Sugar Swirl], the Eltish filly [Bonnie Miss winner She’s All Eltish]; everyone kept going down to the winners’ circle all day long. I started thinking how cool would it be if [Big Brown] won, too?”
From her first visit to Saratoga Race Course, DeLong wanted to be a racetracker. A communications major at Ithaca College, she wound up doing an apprenticeship with steeplechase training legends Jonathan Sheppard, Tommy Voss and Charlie Fenwick Jr., among others.
“I started with show horses but really wanted to be a steeplechase rider. It didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t going to happen. But I did ride at Marlboro in Maryland and rode in a lot of ARCA races [for amateur riders] for fun.”
In 1998, DeLong moved to Long Island and began exercising horses for Tom Skiffington, Wayne Lukas, Jimmy Toner and John DeStefano, later becoming DeStefano’s assistant. She also worked for Todd Pletcher and was a free-lance rider before returning upstate to open her production company.
As post time neared for the Florida Derby, DeLong went down to the walking ring to get a closer look at the subject of all those brown hats. “When [Big Brown] walked into the paddock the place went crazy,” she said. “The crowd started to cheer in sections as he walked by. It was the kind of excitement you feel just before the Derby or the Travers.
“He made you [want to bet on him]. He gives you confidence. He was pumped up and on his toes but there was a calmness about him. His demeanor just exuded something that certain horses have.”
Big Brown left from the 12 slip quickly but with the calmness and control he showed in the walking ring. His forward momentum found him three across the track at mid-first turn, then second, then first as the field straightened away into the backstretch, “loping like a gazelle through a meadow,” rider Kent Desormeaux would later say.
“I looked at the horses, then at the fractions, looked back at the screen, then back at the fractions again. At the top of the stretch he was still going strong. Holy ….!”
After the IEAH and Pompa entourages made their way to the winners circle, followed by the Padua group, who ended this private Derby day ritual with Electrify’s track record win in an overnight stakes, there was much celebrating, champagne toasts and laughter, when someone said: “[Big Brown] should have his own song.”
“I like to be creative, take my mind off things, so the Wednesday after I got home I thought, why not?”
And so the marriage of racetrack lifer and communications major was consummated, producing “Big Bad, Big Brown,” the coolest horse in the whole damn town, to the tune of Jim Croce’s “Big Bad Leroy Brown.” DeLong recorded the ditty with her own lyrics and posted it anonymously on YouTube. To date it’s gotten over 1,200 hits.
“I sung bass in the church choir, but I’m no singer,” DeLong admits. “Did I need to do this? No. But this was once in a lifetime. The excitement just rubbed off on me. I did it for those who might like it, might enjoy it. I just hope people have a sense of humor about it.”
Accompanying Photo Gallery to "Racing to the Kentucky Derby".