Facts point to big weeks for Dutrow

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- "I do not do well with imaginations," Anthony Dutrow said one morning, looking down the shed row at his thoroughbred stars. "I need the facts. I need the facts; I do not do well with imaginations at all."

It was after training hours on the backside of Saratoga Race Course, and the horses were standing there, one in a stall near the office and one farther down the aisle. They leaned their heads out over the webbing and peered at the man who spoke of them with admiration and respect.

I do my very, very best to attain the same goals as my dad. They are very important to me, very important.

-- Trainer Anthony Dutrow

"She's a beautiful filly" and "he's doing absolutely fantastic," the trainer said. Then Alabama Stakes contender Havre de Grace arched her glossy brown neck, and Travers Stakes contender A Little Warm shifted on tight, slender legs, and the possibility of two prestigious Grade 1 victories shone from their bright brown eyes.

But stop.

This, after all, is the eldest Dutrow's stable. Here, talk is always of the facts. No hypothetical situations, no garlands of roses, few pipe dreams, fewer silver trophies.

Here, talk is of focus, determination and work ethic, things the late Richard Dutrow Sr. taught all his sons -- Anthony, the oldest; middle child Rick Jr.; and Chip, the youngest -- as they grew up under his regime as one of New York's best, most accomplished trainers.

"My dad was a big influence on me throughout my whole entire life, including today," says Dutrow, 52. "His work ethic, his attention to detail, his commitment, his sacrifices -- all those types of things, my dad was superior at. And I do my very, very best to attain the same goals as my dad. They are very important to me, very important."

Call Chip and Tony the "other Dutrows," bookends to Rick's flamboyant and accomplished career. They all followed their father into the training of thoroughbred racehorses, but Rick was the one with the untamed, brilliant talent, the one who found the spotlight in 2008 with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, and bullishly navigated his way through a Triple Crown season wrought with ups and downs. Tony, everyone always said, was better with people, more articulate, well-mannered, just plain good.

"He's always been the good one, and by 'good' I mean he always did what was right," Rick said. "He always did the right thing. I'm happy to see him getting better horses; he deserves a shot. He's stayed the course, and it's his turn to get some runners."

* * *

Horse racing is built on three main emotions -- hope, disappointment and the will to try again. Ever since the eldest Dutrow boy was old enough to work the backside, to wield the smooth handle of a pitchfork and hold the soft leather of a leadshank, his world has centered on the balance of those emotions.

"Horse people are second nature to disappointment," he said. "When I initially get bad news, immediately, devastation. Seconds later, I'm fine. I'm like, 'OK, what are we faced with, let's jump in there, let's get it done, let's stay focused, tomorrow's another day.'"

He took out his training license in 1975 and has been training on his own since 1987, but no matter how many years go by, some things never change. Dutrow never felt the range of emotions so forcefully as three weeks ago at Saratoga, when Edward Evans' A Little Warm stamped himself as a legitimate Travers starter with a score in the July 31 Jim Dandy Stakes and a long-striding colt named Winslow Homer appeared headed in that direction as well when he romped by nine lengths the next day in the Aug. 1 Curlin. Ah, the hope.

"When he ran the way he did in the Curlin, we were overwhelmed with satisfaction," Dutrow said. "And the next day, to be disappointed again …"

Winslow Homer came out of the race with a condylar fracture to his left foreleg, a season-ending injury.

"Once again, devastation," his trainer remarked. "But we picked ourselves up, said, 'Let's get him back,' and hopefully everyone will eventually see Winslow Homer be the horse that we've always believed him to be."

Even A Little Warm, now Dutrow's main Travers contender, suffered setbacks en route to his upcoming start. When he didn't have enough graded earnings to make the Kentucky Derby field, his team planned to start him in the Preakness. But the colt developed a temperature during shipping from South Florida to Dutrow's base at Delaware Park, and those plans were delayed.

"That was disappointing, but it did not get to the bottom of us," Dutrow said. "We took our time and got him better, and he's proven what a nice horse he is."

Taking his time with horses, figuring out what they need, going on intuition -- these have been the eldest Dutrow's signature qualities.

"Those are the only things I've got," he said. "I do not have my brother Ricky's talent. I am able to focus, I am able to commit, I am able to sacrifice, I am able to work very hard. That's my whole game."

That and dedication. With 85 horses in training in three locations (Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York), he often will rise at 1 a.m. to begin the four-hour drive from New York to Delaware Park.

"It's the only thing I'm interested in," he said. "People say, 'You wanna do this, you wanna do that, you wanna go here, you wanna go there?' I'm not interested. This is where I like to go. I've done nothing my whole life but horses. I don't know what the economy means, the stock market is a thing, a phrase I've heard, I don't understand it; I've done nothing but horses my whole entire life. So I guess my intuitive instincts are based on that, and that's what I rely on. I need to watch my horses and I need my horses to tell me what to do."

* * *

What these two horses are telling Dutrow is that they are ready to run far and they are ready to run fast. Havre de Grace will go up against Blind Luck and Devil May Care, the heavyweights of the 3-year-old filly division, in the Alabama on Saturday. One week later, A Little Warm will look to make his mark on the corresponding male division in the Aug. 28 Travers.

Throughout the 2008 Triple Crown season, as Rick Dutrow found limelight at the top of the game, his older brother maintained a low profile. Did he envy his younger sibling's success? Not once.

From the filly, Dutrow looks to a runner-up finish by a nose in the July 10 Delaware Oaks as indication of her ability. From A Little Warm?

"What leads our team to believe in A Little Warm going into the Travers is just how fantastic he's doing," he said. "He loves this racetrack; he's doing fantastic. I could not dream him to be any better, and that's what leads us to believe he's going to run well. I don't know about other people's horses, I don't know about a mile and a quarter, whether it'd be great for him or not great for him, but what leads us to believe he's going to run well is just how fantastic he's doing."

Throughout the 2008 Triple Crown season, as Rick Dutrow found limelight at the top of the game, his older brother maintained a low profile. Did he envy his younger sibling's success? Not once.

"I'm too matter-of-fact of a person," he said. "I love my brother Ricky very much, we've always had the best relationship and I always want the best for him, but I was too busy with my own affairs."

And gradually, those affairs have strengthened into the kind of form his father used to show. Last year, Dutrow's runners (Cat Moves and Seattle Smooth) took the Prioress Stakes and the Ogden Phipps Handicap, respectively, both Grade 1 events at Belmont Park. From 1,456 victories, he counts six Grade 3 scores, seven Grade 2 scores and three Grade 1 wins -- his first, the Futurity Stakes, garnered with Burning Roma in 2000.

And even the most pragmatic, down-to-earth approach does not prevent Dutrow from awareness. While he might not allow himself to dream, he knows the ensuing days could hold the greatest victories of his hard-knocking career.

"When we brought A Little Warm to Saratoga, we all talked about this possibly being a lifetime opportunity for us to win the Travers," the trainer said. "The whole team sat down and made sure we realized what was in front of us, and all of us do realize that this could be a one-time experience. We've made the commitment to do the very best job we can with A Little Warm. So we're quite aware of what we're involved with and we're hoping for the best. We're relying on our commitment and focus on helping him get to the Travers."

Claire Novak is an award-winning journalist, whose coverage of the Thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets, including The Blood-Horse magazine, the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) and NTRA.com. She lives in Lexington, Ky.