Big Brown’s Derby victory was understandably overshadowed by the tragic death of filly Eight Belles. He ran a great race from post 20, simply coasting away from the field at the top of the stretch to rally home for the win. The way he won — head up, knees working like pistons, ears flicking — showed the world that he could be the one. He had the makings of a Triple Crown winner, and as with all other Derby winners, he immediately became the prospective next Triple Crown winner.
But as soon as word came that Eight Belles had been euthanized, the focus shifted from Big Brown’s win to the controversy surrounding racetrack breakdowns. Even up to Preakness day, the racing world suffered heated accusations from groups like PETA, and pre-race coverage even featured a round-table debate on the issue. But once the race was over, there was absolutely no doubt that this was Big Brown’s day.
Undefeated, Big Brown bounced into post 7 as the morning-line favorite. The concern was that by breaking from the middle of the pack, Big Brown would get dirt kicked in his face, which could upset him and possibly shake him from his rhythm. As soon as Big Brown rocketed out of the gate, he shot to the lead and gradually faded to fourth as the field streamed into the first turn. Kent Desormeaux kept a tight hold on Big Brown’s mouth, and the colt bounded along with his head in the air, wanting to run. Tucked along the rail, Big Brown was boxed in for a few strides, but Desormeaux swung him off the rail onto clear track as soon as he could. Big Brown settled into a steady rhythm and cruised down the backstretch and into the final turn.
At the top of the stretch, the field bunching behind Big Brown, Desormeaux finally turned him loose. The colt accelerated explosively, stretching out for the first time in the race as he sped away from the field, who had absolutely no chance of touching him. Desormeaux let his colt run for a few strides, then peeked behind him to see a gloriously long way back to the rest of the field. He sat up, slowing Big Brown to a high-stepping gallop, and the colt strolled home in a very easy victory.
There was no doubt that this colt was the real thing. Big Brown fought Desormeaux as the jockey reeled him in, and the colt trotted back to the winner’s circle with his head in the air. Big Brown had hardly broken a sweat, and he seemed to be jumping out of his skin, ready to run all over again. He had class, style, and a threateningly big and easy stride.
The world now knew that he was it. He was the big horse who could win like he was taking a canter in the park, and do so two weeks after running the biggest race of his life. He seemed larger that life; magnificent, capable, and dangerously fast; and for a moment, the racing world let the controversy of the last few weeks slip away as they celebrated the victory.
It seemed that the whole racing industry was riding Big Brown. Could he pull it out of this mess? He could possibly be a vehicle for change, conveying a message that this sport needs to be reworked for the betterment of the horses, so as to preserve the tradition and glory of racing. But to do this, he needed one more victory, possibly the most difficult one of his life. Could he bounce back from two huge races in the span of five weeks and blast through a mile and a half? Could he conquer that elusive, fleeting trio of victories?
As the horses of the past have shown us, anything is possible.