Archive for Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trainer not about to stop calling his shot

Horses make their first pass around the track during the 113rd running of the Preakness Stakes. Big Brown, center, won the race Saturday in Baltimore.

Horses make their first pass around the track during the 113rd running of the Preakness Stakes. Big Brown, center, won the race Saturday in Baltimore.

May 18, 2008


— He called his shot and won the Kentucky Derby.

Then the Preakness.

Anybody who knows Rick Dutrow Jr. knows he isn't about to stop now. The man doesn't have a cautious bone in his body.

The toughest part of Big Brown's Triple Crown try comes three weeks from now in New York. Waiting in ambush is a mystery horse named Casino Drive. The Japanese import didn't show up for the first two legs of the triple and sneaked in last weekend at Belmont to devastate a field of 3-year-olds by 53â4 lengths in only his second race. Casino Drive won his debut by 111â2 in February.

Better still, he's related by blood to the last two Belmont winners, Jazil and Rags to Riches.

Reminded of all that right after Big Brown's equally devastating win Saturday at the Preakness, Dutrow reverted to character. He said Casino Drive is already competing for second.

"I believe that he can't beat our horse. So all the Japanese people who are going to think when they come that Godzilla was dead, they're going to find out he's not," Dutrow said. "He's here."

Plenty of people think a Triple Crown will do wonders for the horse racing game. Before he could even think about saving his sport, Dutrow had to save himself.

A decade ago, he was sleeping on a cot in the tack room at Aqueduct, with two cheap claimers to his name and barely enough of a future to throw to a cat. Dutrow already had his license revoked once for using drugs himself and was hounded by whispers that he wasn't above doping his horses, either. He'd seemingly squandered the legacy passed down from his father, Richard Sr., a respected trainer who taught his son horsemanship, but tired of the antics, he severed their ties not long before succumbing to cancer in 1999.

"What I've done," Dutrow said earlier in the week, when his troubled past was dragged back into the spotlight, "I don't have any problems talking about."

Good thing, since he will have to address it a few more times as talk of a Triple Crown revs up in the coming weeks. It has been 30 years since Affirmed swept racing's three jewels and while the publicity will be welcomed by an industry in decline for several decades, it will be a mixed blessing for its latest star.

Dutrow won't run from those questions. Someone asked the other day, considering how many times his father had brought him to the Preakness as a youngster, what was the wildest thing he ever saw in the infield. Dutrow didn't have to think long.

"I was probably the one doing them," he said, disarming critics as he does often with self-deprecating humor.

But keep in mind that he'll answer some more candidly than others. At least that wasn't a problem on this Saturday.

Dutrow had barely returned from the winner's circle at Pimlico after grabbing the silver Woodlawn Vase with both hands and shaking it, a display he must have wished his father could have witnessed. Sitting in the interview room alongside his winning jockey, Kent Desormeaux, he heard doubts raised about whether his dazzling bay colt could handle the grueling 11â2 miles at Belmont and the lurking Casino Drive.

By the way, Desormeaux was aboard Casino Drive in that impressive win at the Peter Pan.

"It's another quarter of a mile," Desormeaux said. "You know, there's so many hurdles."


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