BALTIMORE -- Outside Pimlico, about 30 members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were wrangled by Baltimore police on Saturday to an inconspicuous corner. The placards they held said: "Eight Belles raced to death" and "Trainers and vets drug horses."
Inside, not far from the spot where the demonstrators lined a curb, there was an undefeated 3-year-old colt awaiting the call to do what he has done far better than any horse he has ever faced, and who is now in position to sweep the first Triple Crown in 30 years.
The PETA demonstration went largely unnoticed. Big Brown made his point far more successfully.
Big Brown, who under the roar of the 112,222 in attendance left the quarter pole beneath Kent Desormeaux in the 133rd Preakness in full stride and in the blink of an eye was gone, now overshadows the racing world. He's the first Kentucky Derby winner since Smarty Jones four years ago to leave Baltimore with Triple Crown aspirations intact, and is perhaps the most exciting in the 29 years since Spectacular Bid.
"We're having fun again," someone said.
Big Brown was held behind pacemaker Gayego and Riley Tucker, who kept the 1-5 Kentucky Derby winner trapped on the rail for much of the run down the backstretch, until Desormeaux determined that the moment had arrived to deal with the business at hand. He eased Big Brown off the rail and to the outside. Within a few strides Big Brown looked every bit like $50 million, the figure -- though specific terms remain undisclosed -- attached to a breeding deal involving Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky and IEAH Stable announced earlier in the afternoon.
While the result was almost identical to his victories in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, Big Brown proved a few new things in the Preakness. Though he broke a stride behind most of the others, his recovery was almost instant. He was held up behind horses and also found himself somewhere other than with a clear path on the outside awaiting the rider's cue for the first time.
Nothing, it appears, is beyond this colt.
"On paper, it looked like I could easily be on the lead, but he slipped," Desormeaux said. "He's so strong he powered out with his back legs and slipped. Then, I threw out Plan A and Plan B. I was playing a whole new deck."
Desormeaux still held a pair of aces that was about to become a full house.
The move with which Big Brown separated himself from the field was breathless, an exclamation of superiority that may have had even the demonstrating PETA folks outside cheering.
"It was the easiest win ever," the never-understated Desormeaux said.
In the last 16th, Desormeaux, looking three weeks into the future, to New York and what will be the biggest day racing has seen in since Smarty Jones arrived at Belmont Park in the same position, throttled down. Big Brown, 5¼ lengths in front of an inconsequential battle for second between Macho Again and Icabad Crane, was under wraps.
"I looked between my legs, under my arms and they were eight [lengths] back," Desormeaux said. "I just stopped riding and reeled him in."
Big Brown's Preakness victory, which required 1:54.72 and was amplified by yet another display of inarguable superiority over every horse he faced, sets the table for a Belmont Stakes like no other in the history of the Triple Crown.
Big Brown is a New York horse with New York connections. Also awaiting June 7 is Casino Drive, a winner twice in two starts sent to Belmont Park for the Peter Pan Stakes, which he won easily on May 10 with Desormeaux in the irons. Casino Drive, though, was bred in Kentucky, is owned by Japanese interests and is now the toast of his adoptive home. He is also the offspring of the mare Better Than Honour, whose son Jazil won the 2006 Belmont Stakes, and whose daughter, Rags the Riches, defeated Curlin in the final leg of the 2007 Triple Crown.
Desormeaux knows something about Casino Drive. "He's the only one who can entertain Big Brown's stride," he said. "That's a cold exacta."
"Don't know," Desormeaux said.
"It's cold, babe," said trainer Rick Dutrow, who seemed less concerned than Desormeaux with the challenge in wait.
"Number one, I'd like to have [Casino Drive]," Dutrow said. "He looks like a nice horse. Number two, I believe that he can't beat our horse. So all the Japanese people are going to come over here, they thought Godzilla was dead. They're going to find out he's not dead. He's here."
Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award, and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He has also been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul maintains paulmoranattheraces.blogspot.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.