No small feat for Big Brown

Times Staff Writer

BALTIMORE -- For the last two weeks after the Eight Belles tragedy at the Kentucky Derby, horse racing has been examined, dissected and criticized.

But on a mostly clear, sunny afternoon Saturday before a crowd of 112,222 at Pimlico Race Course, the sport hit a high point as it was proved that, any way you want to color it, Big Brown is a superstar.

After a more-than-convincing 5 1/4 -length victory in the 133rd running of the Preakness Stakes, all that’s left for Big Brown to do to claim his spot in horse racing immortality is to win the Belmont Stakes on June 7.


He would then become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Big Brown went unchallenged by the 11 other horses in the Preakness. Southern California-based Gayego, ridden by Mike Smith, led until the three-quarter pole, then faded badly and finished 11th.

Macho Again, a 39-1 shot who was eighth at the three-quarter pole, managed to get up for second and paid $17.20 to place and $10.40 to show. Icabad Crane finished third and paid $5.60 to show.

The winner went off at 1-5 and, in an oddity, paid $2.40, $2.60 and $2.40.

Jockey Kent Desormeaux said he never even had to use his whip on Big Brown.

“I kissed at him,” he said. “I tapped him on the shoulder. He just took off.

“I don’t know. I guess I was knuckling on him, elbows and whatnot, for about 100 yards, and then I looked between my legs and they were eight [lengths] behind me. I stopped pushing. I said that’s enough. Then I looked one more time I think at the 16th pole.”

He said it was still an eight-length separation.

“I starting slowing him down and watching TV, making sure nothing went crazy,” Desormeaux added.

Big Brown, who covered the 1 3/16 miles in 1:54.80, is the first 3-year-old since Smarty Jones in 2004 to head for the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown in play.

Big Brown’s main competitor at the Belmont figures to be Casino Drive, winner of the recent Peter Pan Stakes.


Asked for his opinion of Casino Drive, Big Brown’s trainer, Rick Dutrow Jr., said, “Well, I would like to have him, No. 1. He looks like a nice horse. No. 2, he can’t beat our horse.”

Big Brown’s owners are New Yorkers Michael Iavarone and Richard Schiavo, who once worked on Wall Street. Now they’re headed back to New York with a horse that could make history.

Big Brown, now unbeaten after five starts, was originally purchased for $190,000 by Brooklyn trucking executive Paul Pompa Jr., who sold a three-quarter interest for $2.5 million to Iavarone and Schiavo while maintaining a quarter-interest for himself.

Big Brown earned $600,000 for Saturday’s win and boosted his earnings to $2,714,500.

Not that it necessarily means anything, but, as was the case at the Derby, Saturday was a bad day for horses who had last run on synthetic surfaces. There were six in the Preakness field and the best finish in the group was a fifth by longshot Stevil.

The other Southern California horse in the field, Yankee Bravo, ridden by Alex Solis, finished 10th, a neck in front of Gayego. Southern California jockey Tyler Baze was on Tres Borrachos, who finished ninth.

Desormeaux was a major part of the Southern California circuit for 16 years before he left in February 2006 and headed East.


He admits he had a bad attitude at the time and his temper left trainers and owners turning the other way whenever he came around.

He was getting only around two mounts a day and knew there had to be greener pastures elsewhere.

And there certainly were. He is now horse racing’s main man, or at least its rein man.

“He was never down,” his father, Harris, said after Saturday’s race. “Only his business was down.”

Desormeaux’s wife, Sonia, his high school sweetheart, said, considering all their ups and downs, “This is the high point of our lives.”

She and the couple’s two sons, Joshua, 15, and Jacob, 9, are planning to move back to La Canada in August. She just found a new home for them.

But her husband plans to continue to ride in the East.

Sonia Desormeaux said one reason for moving back with the boys is because of the schools in La Canada. Another is because of a Los Angeles hearing institute that provides Jacob with the care needs. He suffers from Usher Syndrome and was born deaf and is now developing vision problems.


Asked how long he thought his son would continue to ride, Harris Desormeaux said, “As long as God is willing.”

Desormeaux’s mother, Brenda, was another happy person in the winner’s circle here Saturday. But maybe the happiest was Jacob.

Kent Desormeaux often calls him “the happiest kid in the world.”

His mother said Jacob, a second-grader, had another reason to be happy.

“His teacher told his class there would be no homework all next week if Jacob’s father won the Preakness,” she said.

It wasn’t clear if Jacob, who relies on cochlear implants in order to hear, heard what his mother said. But he gave her a big hug.




Joining elite company

Horses that have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (x-won Triple Crown).

2008 -- Big Brown

2004 -- Smarty Jones

2003 -- Funny Cide

2002 -- War Emblem

1999 -- Charismatic

1998 -- Real Quiet

1997 -- Silver Charm

1989 -- Sunday Silence

1987 -- Alysheba

1981 -- Pleasant Colony

1979 -- Spectacular Bid

1978 -- x-Affirmed

1977 -- x-Seattle Slew

1973 -- x-Secretariat

1971 -- Canonero II

1969 -- Majestic Prince

1968 -- Forward Pass

1966 -- Kauai King

1964 -- Northern Dancer

1961 -- Carry Back

1958 -- Tim Tam

1948 -- x-Citation

1946 -- x-Assault

1944 -- Pensive

1943 -- x-Count Fleet

1941 -- x-Whirlaway

1937 -- x-War Admiral

1936 -- Bold Venture

1935 -- x-Omaha

1932 -- Burgoo King

1930 -- x-Gallant Fox

1919 -- x-Sir Barton


Source: Associated Press