Dutrow narrows training focus to Big Brown

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Between the racetrack and the farm, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. estimates he has about 175 horses in his care. But for the last month and a half, and definitely for the next 2 1/2 weeks, Dutrow's primary focus has been and will be on one.

On Tuesday, Dutrow was at Aqueduct to check in on the 45 or so horses he has based there. But on Wednesday, Dutrow was back at Belmont Park, where he watched Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown jog once around Belmont's wet 1 1/2-mile oval. On June 7, Big Brown will attempt to become Thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown winner when he runs in the $1 million Belmont Stakes.

Michelle Nevin, the regular exercise rider of Big Brown, was in her usual seat Wednesday morning for Big Brown's first day on the track since his authoritative victory in last Saturday's Preakness.

"He was having a look around, playing around,'' Nevin said. "He's exactly the same way as he was in Florida, Churchill, Pimlico - relaxed, doesn't care about anything. He loves to look around. Compared to Pimlico, he had a lot of space.''

After Big Brown trained, Dutrow hung out at trainer Bobby Frankel's barn, where he has Big Brown stabled. He soaked in some sun and talked with a few reporters before doing a larger press conference at 11 a.m.

"I just need to be with him each and every day,'' Dutrow said about Big Brown. "It takes away from the other horses, it takes away from me, I'm not there, I'm missing things, I'm not around my horses. But I know this is what I've got to be doing.''

Dutrow doesn't seem to have a care in the world when it comes to Big Brown, although Dutrow did say the colt "burned a little hair off'' each of his hind ankles in the Preakness. Aside from that, Dutrow likes what he sees, and he almost doesn't want to have to wait until June 7 to run.

"I wish it was now, because our horse is good,'' he said. "I'm expecting things to just get better from here with the horse. The more he comes out of his race, the longer it is away from [the Preakness], the better he's going to be. So time is on our side right now because our horse is good, he's eating every oat since I've had him. Can't see an issue right now with our horse.''

Big Brown was scheduled to begin galloping on Thursday and is likely to have his one and only workout on the weekend before the Belmont. Dutrow said he won't be looking for much that day.

Between now and the Belmont, a lot will be made of Big Brown having to go up against Casino Drive, the Peter Pan winner who is a half-brother to the last two Belmont Stakes winners, Jazil and Rags to Riches.

To Dutrow, Casino Drive is just another horse in the race.

"I don't see that that horse can beat him,'' Dutrow said. "I watched Casino Drive run, I've watched our horse run.''

Dutrow did say that he believes Big Brown will run past the Belmont Stakes, even if the horse becomes just the second undefeated Triple Crown winner in history. Dutrow said Big Brown's goals would be the Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 23 and the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

Dutrow said he would relish a meeting between Big Brown and defending Horse of the Year Curlin.

"I would like to see them run against each other,'' Dutrow said. "It would be good for racing, it would be good for us, it wouldn't be so good for them.''

In other Belmont news:

* Trainer Todd Pletcher said Behindatthebar, scratched from the Preakness due to a bruised foot, has gotten sounder and would probably resume training by the weekend. "I don't know where that leaves us as far as the Belmont,'' he said.

Pletcher also said that Ready's Echo, third in the Peter Pan, "is a definite maybe'' for the Belmont. "We're considering it.'' Ready's Echo is also under consideration for the Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs on June 21.

* Trainer Dante Zanelli said Wednesday was Tomcito's "best day'' of training since he underwent a myectomy following his seventh-place finish in the Peter Pan Stakes. Zanelli said that if Tomcito continues to move forward, he will run in the Belmont.

* At Churchill Downs, Denis of Cork, the third-place finisher in the Derby, returned to light training Wednesday after breezing five furlongs in 1:01 two days beforehand. With trainer David Carroll aboard, Denis of Cork jogged two miles after having Tuesday off. "He'll go back to galloping [Thursday]," said Carroll.

* Also at Churchill, Macho Again walked the shed row for one more morning at trainer Dallas Stewart's barn. Macho Again, the Preakness runner-up, was scheduled to resume light training Thursday, said Stewart.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee