Exercise rider Michelle Nevin slows Belmont Stakes hopeful Big Brown to a light gallop at the end of his run around the track Tuesday at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
NEW YORK -- Big Brown's bombastic trainer has no concerns about the colt's slightly cracked hoof.
Rick Dutrow Jr. wishes everyone else would stop worrying how his horse will handle running with a patch on the quarter crack.
"I don't understand it," Dutrow said Tuesday. "The horse is fine, the quarter crack has not been an issue for some time now. He breezed great, he's cooling out good, there's no blood. What else is there?"
Only a shot at racing history. When Big Brown tries for a win in the Belmont and the first Triple Crown since Affirmed completed the sweep 30 years ago, the colt will do it with an acrylic patch on his left front hoof.
Dutrow become agitated with each question about the crack. He was right when he predicted Big Brown would win the Kentucky Derby. He was on the money with his bold boasts about the Preakness. And he expects to win big again in the Belmont on Saturday: Big Brown will sweep the three jewels of the Triple Crown, bad feet and all.
"We have the best horse," Dutrow said. "I'm as confident as I've ever been."
Dutrow said Big Brown's hoof has held up strong after his workouts this week, and no blood has been spotted. That might have been the only issue that could give Dutrow any reason to pull back on his grandiose Triple Crown proclamations. Fittingly, Big Brown has pulled through like a champ.
"This horse has got good karma," Dutrow said. "No matter what you throw at him, he's going to be ready."
Big Brown walked a few laps around the barn under the hold of exercise rider Michelle Nevin on a gloomy, rainy Wednesday morning. Big Brown stopped at one point to pose for the clicking cameras, causing a three-horse backup in the barn.
He's expected to take a jog Thursday and gallop Friday, when hoof specialist Ian McKinlay is set to glue the acrylic patch on the hoof.
Big Brown wowed a small crowd on Tuesday morning, running five furlongs in 1:00.03 with Dutrow and co-owner Michael Iavarone looking on near the finish line. Even Funny Cide, whose 2003 Triple Crown bid was derailed on a sloppy Belmont track, stood near the rail watching Big Brown in between his stable pony duties.
Thousands more -- fans, family, and bettors -- will hold their breath and watch Saturday with a Triple Crown at stake. This is the first time since Smarty Jones raced for the most prestigious title in the industry in 2004 that the Belmont can decide a Triple Crown winner.
Iavarone can't believe the ride of a lifetime is almost over. At least he'll have the memories.
"That's what a DVR is for," he said.
A year ago, Iavarone was still clamoring for that one special horse that could put him in this coveted position. He was mostly unknown outside the industry then, and now he stands out in the messy barns with his slicked-back hair -- never a hat -- and designer suits. Iavarone enjoys the perks of fame and said he was having dinner with Archie Manning and his quarterback sons while he was in town, and counted the football family as fans of the big ol' colt.
Actually, Iavarone counts an entire league's worth of rooters backing Big Brown. He expected over 800 friends and relatives to attend Saturday's race leaving him with a bigger headache than Big Brown's hoof: who to pick among the 50 allowed in the winner's circle?
Iavarone also dismissed the idea that shaky pasts for him and Dutrow didn't make Big Brown any less worthy of winning the Triple Crown or earning fan support. Big Brown's mug hasn't been on the cover of national magazines or seemed to capture the hearts of the casual fan in the same way Funny Cide, Barbaro or Smarty Jones did.
There was a human athlete with a Triple Crown pursuit on the cover of last week's Sports Illustrated, only it was Texas Rangers standout Josh Hamilton.
"There are 125,000 people here" on Saturday, Iavarone said. "I'd say the majority of them, I hope, would want Big Brown to win."
Iavarone and Dutrow are already looking beyond the Belmont. The pair -- Dutrow especially -- have been adamant that Big Brown will race beyond Saturday. Dutrow talked about plans to train the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner at Aqueduct, then ship him to Saratoga for the Travers. Then it's off to the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in October.
"I can't wait to try him on the Polytrack or whatever the Santa Anita track is called," Dutrow said.
Iavarone said the stud deal with Three Chimneys Farm, where Big Brown will begin his breeding career as part of a $50 million deal, will not affect IEAH's decision to continue to race their prized colt.
"We call the shots on the race track all through the end of the year," he said.
It appears that eight rivals will take on Big Brown, with Japanese-bred Casino Drive the only one besides the Derby/Preakness winner likely to have single-digit odds.
Casino Drive is scheduled to work out Wednesday, the same day Anak Nakal, Da'Tara, Denis of Cork and Macho Again are expected at Belmont. Icabad Crane, Tale of Ekati and Ready's Echo are already on the grounds.