LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Rick Dutrow is worried. Does anyone believe him?
When he said his horse was the best of the Kentucky Derby field and everyone should bet him, the only ones who seemed to believe him were the bettors. Now, he says he can't promise Big Brown, his Derby winner, will run a great race May 17 in the Preakness Stakes.
"We're going to hope and go and we'll see," he said. "But with just two weeks to prepare, I won't really know."
It is a face unseen. The smiles are weaker. The "babes" on the end of his sentences fewer. It could be the flu or cold bug that has had him under the weather for the past three days and caused him to take yesterday morning off. Or it could be the stress that comes from chasing the Triple Crown.
"I like five weeks, 40 days between races," Dutrow said. "I like to train a horse for a race. When this horse goes into the race the right way, with good timing and all, I don't see anybody beating him. But it's not happening. He's got to come right back off a huge, huge race. I can't stand it, but it doesn't matter because we've got to do it. I am kind of worried about it.
"I know it looks like he's the best horse, but he's going to have to show he's great in the next five weeks. I don't see that he's beaten a great Derby field, not like Secretariat did. That Secretariat field was the best crop I've seen in my lifetime and he took them to the cleaners every time."
Big Brown, sired by Boundary and owned by IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa Jr., is on the torturous Triple Crown road, with stops for three races - the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes - as Dutrow said, with the last two in the next five weeks. And every stop gets harder.
Since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978, nine horses have managed to win the Derby and the Preakness and then failed to win the Belmont, the grueling 1 1/2 -mile test of champions.
At each bend in the road, a field of new and rested horses with fresh legs has conspired to end what is looking more and more like an impossible dream.
After three winners in five years - Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed - the Triple Crown has gone unclaimed for 29 years.
At Pimlico, the Preakness field could number as many as 10 or 11 horses, and all but Big Brown could be a fresh starter. It appears that for the first time since Citation ran 60 years ago, the Derby winner could run in the Preakness without another Derby horse in the field.
Trainer Louie Roussel has the only Derby horse who was still possible for the Preakness yesterday - fifth-place finisher Recapturetheglory. Roussel told Pimlico officials a final decision could be made today, based on how many horses will be in the field, but he was driving toward New Orleans and not Baltimore in the afternoon.
Big Brown has intimidated all who have run against him. But others are stepping up. Kentucky Bear and Tres Borrachos are to van in from Kentucky tomorrow and work Saturday morning.
Withers Stakes winner Harlem Rocker now appears to be likely from the barn of Todd Pletcher. He is owned by Frank Stronach, who owns Pimlico.
Giant Moon, the fourth-place finisher in the Wood Memorial, will arrive May 15, and his trainer, Richard Schosberg, while impressed by Big Brown's Derby performance, has not changed his Preakness plans.
"My plan all along has been to go into the Maryland race fresh," Schosberg said. "Maybe the two weeks will affect Big Brown. It doesn't appear it will, but you can see his trainer is concerned."
But Dutrow is far from predicting defeat.
"I like our chances because we have the best horse," he said. "That always helps. And, he's only had four career races, not eight. He's not been beaten up or ground down. ... It's hard to know where your horse is in two weeks, but we're going there with the big horse with the expectation of winning the race, but it won't be like [the Derby]."