The Triple Crown party started early. At 6:19 p.m., to be exact. The grandstands were shaking. Fans in the infield briefly clawed their way from the black hole of depravity. And everyone in horse racing began thinking about what might be waiting.
Yesterday, Big Brown won the 133rd Preakness. And tomorrow, he'll make the trip to New York, with a chance at history just three weeks away, just 1 1/2 miles of dirt separating his name from those of the other greats.
War Admiral. Citation. Secretariat. And maybe Big Brown.
Yesterday at Pimlico Race Course, the sharp-looking colt soaked in the cheers from an excited crowd, fans waving betting slips and barking through rolled-up Daily Racing Forms. His trainer, Rick Dutrow, was still near the finish line, waiting for the NBC camera to go hot, when he spotted his horse on the big screen.
"Look at him! He loves it! He's in between two ponies. He looks like me at Scores," Dutrow said, showing at least a passing familiarity with the famous strip club, headquartered in New York.
Yes, the party has started. And no, it doesn't look as if it will end any time soon. We break out the confetti and noisemakers a tad early, but trust me, it's for good reason. Sure, since Affirmed last won the crown in 1978, there have been others who had a legitimate shot at the three jewels. But few felt like such sure things. This horse might as well start getting his head sized. They haven't made a crown this big in a while.
There's an air of destiny around this horse. That white splash between his eyes sure looks like a kiss from the racing gods.
"I believe it's already been written," said Big Brown's jockey, Kent Desormeaux. "We're just living through God, and I'm thankful I've been blessed with these beautiful people and this freak of a horse."
Big Brown keeps showing us how special he is. He did it by winning from the outside at the Florida Derby. He did it by winning the Kentucky Derby despite only three career starts and starting from the No. 20 post. And he did it again yesterday, never needing to push into a high gear and just cruising down the stretch.
The easy, nonchalant win shouldn't have come as a surprise. His entire day felt like just another lazy weekend.
Big Brown was first across the finish line but last out of the barn. He walked slowly across a golden path of hay, along Rogers Avenue as fans peered through the chain-link fence. He hadn't even hit the track yet, and no one could believe what they were looking at. "Wow, just look at him," they said.
He remained calm even after he was saddled and walking in circles in the makeshift paddock on the turf course. It was as if he didn't realize a race was moments away. Or he didn't care.
Big Brown stopped making his circles just twice, both times poking his head up and showing teeth. He seemed to be posing for the camera-phone paparazzi who were all around.
On the track, even as the dozen horses burst from the gates, Big Brown never looked as if he was in a hurry. He could've stopped off, picked up a pizza and a couple of movies and still beat the field home.
It wasn't until the final turn that Big Brown beautifully and skillfully moved from the outside to take over the lead. If you blinked, you didn't see him move from third to first. "I tapped him on the shoulder," Desormeaux said. "He just took off."
The jockey peeked under his legs and spotted eight horses behind him. "I stopped pushing," he said. "I said, 'That's enough.'"
Big Brown went into cruise control for the final stretch, and no one could get even a whiff of his tail. He knew this party was for him, and he wasn't going to wait until the finish line to bask in it.
The Belmont is a longer race, but if Big Brown runs the way he did in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago and yesterday in the Preakness, there's not a 3-year-old alive that can top him. In fact, the only thing that could possibly keep Big Brown from eventually winning the Triple Crown is Big Brown himself.
"I guess we know that Big Brown is the real deal now," said Reade Baker, Kentucky Bear's trainer.
He's the right horse at the right time. Confident, cool and awesome. A freak. And a dream.
And just maybe a Triple Crown winner.