LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It was a Brown Derby, a Big Brown Derby, on a surprisingly clear sunny day Saturday at Churchill Downs.
A day after heavy rain had soaked the folks at the Kentucky Oaks, everything came up roses for favored Big Brown, who started from the outside post position 20 and was well in front at the end of the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby.
But while there was joy in the Big Brown camp, there was sadness being felt with those connected to Eight Belles.
After finishing second, 4 3/4 lengths behind Big Brown, Eight Belles, attempting to become the fourth filly to win the Kentucky Derby, suffered two compound fractured front ankles while galloping out and was euthanized on the track near the start of the backstretch.
The fatal injury brought gloom to an otherwise bright day, as 157,770 fans turned out. It was the second-largest crowd in Derby history, topped only by the 163,628 who attended in 1974.
And the tragedy also detracted from a marvelous race run by Big Brown, who became the only horse besides Clyde Van Dusen in 1929 to win from the 20th post. And he became the first Derby winner with only three previous starts since Regret in 1915.
Now, the question is: Can Big Brown become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978?
Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., who before the Derby was saying he didn’t see how his horse could lose, was more reserved Saturday when looking ahead to the Preakness on May 17.
“I’ve got to say that his next race coming up is out of my hands because it’s coming back in two weeks,” he said. “I’m not going to have a chance to train him.
“The timing is not good for me. I know he looks like the best horse of his crop, but he’s got to go over there in two weeks and has to show up there the right way again. There’s going to be some new horses. I don’t know what post he’s going to get, that kind of stuff.”
Big Brown’s jockey, Kent Desormeaux, recorded his third Kentucky Derby victory. Real Quiet in 1998 and Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 were his other winning mounts.
He calls Big Brown the best horse he has ever ridden.
Asked why, Desormeaux said, “Speed. Real Quiet did not have speed. He would never have won a six-furlong race, and he didn’t. This horse could win tomorrow if I needed him to.”
Big Brown covered the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.82 and paid $6.80 to win.
“I had a beautiful, uneventful trip,” Desormeaux said.
Denis Of Cork, who barely made it into the 20-horse Derby field, finished third and paid $11.60 to show.
Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John moved up to sixth place heading into the home stretch but could do no better.
Jockey Corey Nakatani said, “Turning for home, we were in the right spot to come and get them, but you’ll see in the replay that my horse took a funny step, switched leads and I could never get him going again.”
Bob Black Jack, narrowly beaten by Colonel John in the Santa Anita Derby, was 16th, one place better than Gayego, the other California horse in Saturday’s race.
With the victory, Big Brown earned $1,451,800 and increased his earnings after only four races to $2,114,500. Big Brown was the 52nd Derby favorite to win and the third in the last five years. Smarty Jones in 2004 and Street Sense last year won as favorites.