The plane bringing Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown to the Preakness was idling on the runway in Louisville, Ky. Trainer Rick Dutrow was hanging on his cell phone, waiting for owner Mike Iavarone to give him the news.
Where would Big Brown start in the 133rd Preakness?
"He couldn't be happier now," Iavarone said. "He was convinced we were going to draw the No. 13 or the No. 1. When he heard it was the No. 7, he was delighted. It is the right spot. If no one wants to go for the lead, Big Brown can take the lead if he wants."
Dutrow, with Big Brown on board, took off from Louisville about two minutes after the draw.
Shortly after the Derby, Dutrow was asked if he'd pick the outside post for the Derby, and he had shrugged, "Of course." It has been his horse's favorite position since dominating the Florida Derby from the outside No. 12 post, which had not been done since that track was reconfigured.
Then he went to the Kentucky Derby and won from the No. 20 post, which had only been done once before in the 134-year history of the event.
But Dutrow, who cut his teeth at Pimlico helping his dad train horses, knows that neither the inside post nor the outside post is kind to horses. There has not been a Preakness winner out of the No. 13 post and only nine from the No. 1.
"When you're on the far outside, you feel like you're starting in the grandstands," said Graham Motion, who trains at the Fair Hill Training Center and who will have Icabad Crane starting from the No. 3 post, home to 11 winners. "I think it's why they limit the field to 14, because Pimlico is so narrow."
There will be 13 horses starting Saturday. Hey Byrn, owned by Beatrice Oxenberg, who is delighted to be coming to Baltimore to see relatives and eat crabcakes, is the 20-1 shot who will start from the No. 13 gate.
Big Brown was made the favorite at 1-to-2 by Pimlico oddsmaker Frank Carrulli.
"I think that's good value," he said. "If you bet $500 you'll win $250."
If Big Brown wins.
Gayego, the only other Derby competitor to advance to the Preakness, was made the second choice at 8-1, while Behindatthebar is third choice at 10-1. Kentucky Bear and Yankee Bravo are the co-fourth choices at 15-1.
Trainer Dallas Stewart, whose Macho Again drew the No. 1 post, said he doesn't believe the starting gate will affect the race and he's not concentrating on Big Brown.
"We've got to beat all 12 of the other horses," he said. "Big Brown is the Derby winner, and if he shows up with a race like he ran in the Derby, I don't know who will beat him. But this is the Preakness. A classic race. We've come here to take a shot at winning the race. Our horse is doing well, and we're hoping for a great day."
Kentucky Bear's trainer, Reade Baker, continued to say he believes Big Brown can be beaten.
"He beat all those horses in Kentucky," Baker said. "But he hasn't beaten mine."
Iavarone, Big Brown's owner, liked Baker's brashness.
"I guess we should be afraid of Kentucky Bear," he said, smiling. "But the way I feel is it's more about whether Big Brown runs his race. If he breaks well and gets a clean trip ... even assuming he has some sort of bounce from the Derby, well, I still feel he can bounce and win."