Or maybe not.
Facing a field with only two other graded winners, Kent Desormeaux had to call on a laboring Big Brown early in the stretch to catch pacesetter Coal Play. Drifting out slightly down the lane in spite of steady right-handed urging from his jockey, Big Brown picked it up late and swept past the tiring Coal Play close to home to score a 1 3/4-length win in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell.
“He found a new gear and just kept sticking his neck out," Desormeaux said. "I knew he was going to get there. At the top of the stretch (Coal Play) took off, but Big Brown took off after him. He just kept coming and I knew we’d get him."
Big Brown was pulled up after being distanced in the Belmont as he chased racing's Triple Crown. So he may have just been a little tired after coming under a stern ride for the final quarter-mile in his first race in two months.
After leading briefly out of the gate, Big Brown took back slightly but was well positioned on the outside of Coal Play, who set a solid pace. They continued like that all the way around to the final bend with Atoned stalking in third. When Big Brown moved for the lead on the outside as they made their way around the bend, Coal Play responded to the challenge and edged away to lead by a couple of lengths in upper stretch. As Desormeaux worked furiously to get Big Brown going, the Boundary colt began to close in. Coal Play, meanwhile, was tiring under Joe Bravo, but the son of Minsehaft fought on in the last furlong and it wasn't until the late stages that the 1-5 favorite had the race safely tucked away.
Dutrow said afterward that he was "very happy.
“I feel much better than the last time he ran, I’ll tell you that,” he added
Fractions were :23 for the opening quarter mile, :46 2/5 for the half and 1:10 4/5 for six furlongs.
"I had every intention of going to the lead, but that was suicidal," Desormeaux told TVG. "Big Brown stuck out his neck and went and got 'em. He showed his true class. He made a lead change and showed another gear. He's back."
Later, he added: “Big Brown is the best horse I’ve ever ridden. Today he showed he’s a warrior. He’s always won his other races with such ease. Today he showed what courage he had.
“He’s always been a drifter and today I decided I wasn’t going to hold his line. As long as he was going forward, I was going to let him go on with it."
Michael Iavarone, representing IEAH Stables, said, "That was a lot tougher than anybody could imagine. Let's see what this race took out of him (before deciding what's next). He had to get down on his belly today."
Iavarone added: “I thought we were in trouble at the quarter pole. Nick Zito’s horse ran so big. He kicked away from us and I thought we were in trouble. This was another dimension for Big Brown -- he showed his heart and courage."
The owner said that the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) "is our ultimate goal."
Trainer Nick Zito saddled both the second- and third-place finishers for owner Robert LaPenta: Coal Play and Fountain of Youth (gr. II) winner Cool Coal Man, who finished six lengths behind Big Brown.
“I thought we had a helluva shot turning for home," Zito said. "We made him (Big Brown) run, that’s for sure."
The final time was 1:48.31 over a fast strip. The stakes record, 1:47, is held jointly by Bet Twice (1987) and Majestic Light (1976). Big Brown became the second Kentucky Derby winner to win the Haskell, joining War Emblem (2002).
Big Brown, who also won the Florida Derby (gr. I) this year, posted his sixth win in seven starts while boosting his earnings to $3,314,500. Paul Pompa Jr., Gary Tolchin, Andrew Cohen and Pegasus Holdings Group are also part-owners of Big Brown.
The Haskell drew record wagering of $4,257,409, pacing Monmouth to a single-day record total handle of $17,642,954. The betting totals easily surpassed last year’s records of $3,734,404 bet on the Haskell, and $14,122,636 bet on the 14-race card.
The shortest Haskell price since Holy Bull in 1994, Big Brown paid $2.40, $2.10 and $2.10. The $2 exacta was worth $25.20 with Coal Play, who returned $8 and $4.20. Second choice Cool Coal Man, ridden by Eddie Castro, was $2.80 to show.
Alaazo, Nistle's Crunch, Atoned and Magical Forest followed.
View Stakes Details and Full Equibase Chart