NEW YORK -- A jog around the racetrack was all trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. needed to see before declaring Big Brown back -- and maybe better than before.
"He looks like an absolute picture," a delighted Dutrow said Tuesday morning after his Triple Crown hopeful resumed training while continuing to heal from a slight crack on the inside of his left front hoof.
"You would never think that he would look this good after what he's been through -- running so often and shipping, flying. He just looks unbelievable."
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner now appears set for his attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner in the Belmont Stakes on June 7.
With Dutrow re-energized after watching Big Brown move around the track for the first time since Friday, he was asked if the rest of the field, including top threat Casino Drive, is in trouble.
"As we are right now, I'd have to say yes, because I know our horse will be fixed, if not tomorrow, the next day," he said, his confident air back for the first time in several days. "It's not a big deal. And we will be able to put our breeze in one time and that's all that I think that we really should have to do."
Dutrow said unbeaten Big Brown could have his final serious workout before the 1½-mile Belmont as early as Sunday and as late as Wednesday, depending on the weather.
The big bay colt threw a scare into Dutrow and the rest of team Big Brown when a quarter crack -- about three-quarters of an inch long -- was discovered Friday. Hoof specialist Ian McKinlay stitched up the crack with stainless steel wire Monday, and the injury apparently is healing rapidly.
So much so that when Dutrow and McKinlay spoke Monday night, it was decided if the trainer thought the hoof looked good in the morning, a trip around Belmont Park would be in order.
"I was very happy with this move," Dutrow said outside Barn 2 as Big Brown was being walked inside by exercise rider Michelle Nevin. At one point, the colt pulled Nevin to a stop at the end of the barn to pose for photographs until Dutrow shooed Big Brown away.
Asked how he looks now compared to the days before the Preakness, Dutrow said: "He might look better. He's eating everything we throw at him."
Notice any weaknesses, even with the crack in the hoof?
"Not that I can see," Dutrow said. "I can't see a weakness in his game right now."
Dutrow could have waited a day before sending out Big Brown, but knew the sooner the better for several reasons.
"I felt him going to the track was not only good for his conditioning, but also good for his mind," he said. "He's been kind of aggravated. He don't know why he's not going to the track. He just doesn't understand why he's not doing it. And we can't explain it to him. So we let him go out there today and take the edge off of him. He's just getting too rough around the barn."
Michael Iavarone, co-president of IEAH Stables, Big Brown's majority owner, said there were no concerns that the colt went to the track even after overnight and early morning rain.
"The track wasn't that bad, and quite frankly, as aggressive as he's been, it was safer for him to be on the track than in the barn," Iavarone said. "He needed to go to the track."
McKinlay was not at Belmont on Tuesday, but will examine Big Brown as planned Wednesday to make sure the healing process is on schedule.
Big Brown has won all five of his races by a combined 39 lengths, including the Derby by 4 3/4 lengths and the Preakness by 5 1/4 lengths. Big Brown was so dominant, both margins could have been wider but jockey Kent Desormeaux didn't need to ask his horse to run any harder than necessary in the stretch.
"That was by design," Dutrow said. "If you have the overwhelming horse, why go out there and show everybody? Get the job done and let's get them next time. You got to save horse."
And what about the Belmont, which could be the final race of Big Brown's career? Will Dutrow allow Desormeaux to let Big Brown pour it on if he's got the race locked up? "There's no reason to put on a show. What's the reason?" Dutrow said. "Big Brown is a fragile horse. He's already had major issues with his feet, and we're dealing with another one now. And the more pressure you put on your horse in the afternoon, the more things are going to come apart."
For now, Big Brown seems to have it all together.