Their respective journeys to date have been so far off the beaten path no one has a clue what is going to happen when they meet at Gulfstream on Saturday. Not only are their true talents still unknown, they will be going up against two other unproven colts with tremendous potential, Hey Byrn and Face the Cat, as well as the highly regarded Fountain of Youth (gr. II) runner-up Elysium Fields and Sam F. Davis winner Fierce Wind.
Big Brown has already set a torch to the Triple Crown trail with his spectacular victory in an off-the-turf allowance race March 5, which he won under wraps by 12 3/4 lengths, but that was only his second career start. His first came in an 11 1/4-length romp in a maiden turf race at
Anyone hearing the excitement in trainer Rick Dutrow’s voice when discussing Big Brown would think this is going to be racing’s next superstar, and he’s not surprised how much hype the son of Boundary has been getting.
“In his first start this year, he took our breath away turning for home, so I can see how people feel the same way. I can’t blame anybody for getting excited about him,” said Dutrow, who took over the training of Big Brown after majority interest in the colt was sold by owner Paul Pompa to IEAH Stables. “I got to tell you, everybody’s who’s ever been on this horse has loved him, and that’s something I pay a whole lot of attention to. When (
If there is one thing in particular that had Dutrow concerned it’s the two quarter cracks Big Brown has suffered on each of his front feet, and although he feels that is behind him, it’s still in the back of his mind.
“It’s something I’m always going to be concentrating on to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Dutrow said. “But right now it’s as good as it’s ever going to get. His feet have been cold and I’ve been very happy with them. When we first got him at Aqueduct, I was able to breeze him one time on the grass for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, but he came out of the work with a quarter crack and it took time for him to get over it. We got it all fixed up and started him training at Palm Meadows. It seemed he was a little better on the turf, but one morning (on Dec. 22) I breezed him six furlongs in company on dirt with Diamond Stripes, who’s a very good horse, and Big Brown just had Diamond Stripes the whole way. He went in 1:13 3/5, and for him to outwork Diamond Stripes I knew he was just as good on the dirt. That was fun to watch.”
Big Brown then came up with another quarter crack and Dutrow was forced to miss more time with him. “It took us a long while to get than one fixed, too,” he said.
As for the Florida Derby, Dutrow said, “I know he’s got to run back in 24 days, which he’s never done before, and he’s got to run a mile and an eighth on the dirt against some good horses, which he hasn’t done either. So, he’s got to pass a whole lot of tests coming up. But we feel very confident with our chances, especially right now. It doesn’t matter who’s in the race; we’re just looking for our horse to go out there and run his race. If he does, we feel they have us to beat.
“We’re ready to run him back in 24 days against better horses, because he came out his last race good, he hasn’t missed a second of training, and he’s been breezing unbelievable. He ran a “3” on the Sheets and some people say you’re not supposed to run them back in 24 days; they’re supposed to react to that. But sometimes with a young 3-year-old who has had only two starts, you might be OK.”
Big Brown may be a mystery horse, but Tomcito is even more of an unknown, having made all his starts in
It was Zanelli who had picked out the son of Street Cry for a mere $7,500 at the Keeneland September yearling sale for Peruvian businessmen Omar Mahchi and Esteban Ripamonti, Since being sent to Zanelli at Palm Meadows training center, Tomcito has turned in a series of sharp works for the Florida Derby, including a bullet five-furlong drill in :58 4/5 in his last work.
“The one thing that’s hard to measure is the level of competition he was facing in
Zanelli has been buying horses for years, and feels gratified to have picked out a horse of this caliber for such a cheap price.
“I’ve been buying horses for low-budget owners and trying to find a special horse for them,” he said. “To have a horse of this magnitude is very satisfying; it’s everybody’s dream. This horse could be the people’s horse. Everybody’s been behind him, so hopefully this Saturday he can have a big showing. There are a lot of people at the sales who can’t afford to buy the six- and seven-figure horses, and they’re looking for a low-end horse, so it’s a dream come true. There’s nothing more satisfying than making a lot of people happy. Regardless of making yourself look good, it gives you hope than everybody can play this game at the same level.
“I try to find horses that I can market the best, and Tomcito had such a long stride. Yes, he was a little wide in front, and you can find some faults with him, but all in all he has very good balance and I felt he’d work out well for the kind of track he’d be experiencing in
As for facing another exciting, but unknown colt like Big Brown, as well as other quality horses, Zanelli said, “He has the experience, and the way he’s been training I think he’ll be closer to the pace than he was in Peru. The way Big Brown moves on the track, and how powerful he was going by those two frontrunners in his last race, it makes you believe he can be anything. If he wins, people are going to compare him to Curlin, just like they compare Tomcito to Canonero. And it could be true. He could be like Canonero and Big Brown could be like Curlin. That’s what makes it exciting.
“Then you have Nick’s (Zito) horse, Fierce Wind, who has the experience and has won his last three races. He’s definitely in my opinion the horse to beat. Big Brown is one of the horses to beat, but he still has to prove himself, the same way we have to prove ourselves.”
Zanelli said he could have picked an easier spot than the Florida Derby, but felt it was time to find out exactly what they had.
“We had considered either running in the Florida Derby or going to