Big Brown coasts to victory in Preakness

5/17/2008 BALTIMORE Just as he did two weeks ago in a Kentucky Derby marred by the breakdown of Eight Belles, the colt named for UPS delivered another stunning win, this time by 51/4 lengths. Macho Again was second and Icabad Crane was third.

Big Brown broke from the middle of an undistinguished pack and jockey Kent Desormeaux took him off the pace. They ran third down the backstretch before roaring around the final turn and pulled away from the field.

"It was almost like the Kentucky Derby. He just set sail," Desormeaux said.

In the Derby, Big Brown started on the far outside of 19 horses and used an explosive finishing kick to win by 43/4 lengths, the tightest margin in his 5-0 career.

The bay colt joined Majestic Prince (1969), Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew (1977) and Smarty Jones (2004) as undefeated Derby and Preakness winners.

"He just keeps on getting better," trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. said.

Big Brown is the first 3-year-old since Smarty Jones to head for the Belmont Stakes with a triple try in play. The final leg of the Triple Crown will be raced Saturday, June 7. It's been 30 years since Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to give racing its 11th Triple Crown winner.

Desormeaux didn't even need the whip in the stretch; he simply crossed the reins to let Big Brown know it was time to take off. At various points, Desormeaux ducked his head under his right arm to check on the fading competition. There was no need. Big Brown was in total control.

"I looked between my legs, under my arms, they were eight back," he said. "I just stopped riding, reeled him in and just made sure he didn't pull up. He just kept kicking his legs up and striding for the wire."

Big Brown covered 1 3-16 miles in 1:54.80. Sent off at 1-5 odds, he paid $2.40, $2.60 and $2.40. The victory put the sport's focus back on racing after two weeks of frenzied debate about safety and breeding following Eight Belles' catastrophic breakdown. His dominating performance came in front of a crowd that surely breathed easier after all 12 runners returned safely. On the same track just two years ago, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke down early in the race.

The Preakness win also means Big Brown's connections -- Dutrow, Desormeaux and principal owners Michael Iavarone and Richard Schiavo who once worked on Wall Street -- are headed back to their New York base with a horse that could make history.

Big Brown again backed up Dutrow's boast that the Preakness was his race to lose and if the colt broke out of the starting gate cleanly, he would win.

Dutrow got his hands on the silver Woodlawn Vase at Pimlico, where his late father Richard Sr. was a leading trainer in the 1970s and his brother Anthony saddled horses Saturday.

It was an especially meaningful trip to the winner's circle, since Dutrow had accompanied his father on past Preakness days before the two fell out over the younger Dutrow's drug use and blown chances. In the past, his training license was revoked for personal drug use and he was suspended for doping horses.

The Preakness was also a homecoming for Desormeaux, the Cajun jockey who launched his career in Maryland in 1987. Cheering him on were his wife and two sons, including 9-year-old Jacob. The boy was born with Usher syndrome, a genetic disorder that stole his hearing at birth and is slowly robbing him of his sight.

In 1998, Desormeaux rode Real Quiet to wins in the Derby and Preakness only to be denied Triple Crown immortality when Victory Gallop stuck his nose in front at the wire in the Belmont.

Big Brown earned $600,000 for the win and boosted his earnings to $2,714,500 for Iavarone and Schiavo, co-owners of IEAH Stables, and Paul Pompa Jr. Pompa named Big Brown in honor of UPS, a major client of his Brooklyn trucking business.

The festive mood at Pimlico after the race was in sharp contrast to the scene at Churchill Downs two weeks ago. Eight Belles, the filly who took on 19 colts and finished second, broke both front ankles while galloping out and had to be euthanized on the track, the first time that has happened in the Derby.

It was the second time a horse had broken down in the past five Triple Crown races. Barbaro shattered his right rear leg shortly after the start of the 2006 Preakness, stunning more than 100,000 fans, many of whom cried at the sight of the Derby winner taken away in an ambulance. Barbaro was euthanized eight months later because of laminitis, an often fatal hoof disease.

There was no sadness Saturday, only giddy anticipation that racing might see another first Triple Crown winner at long last.

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