Big Brown romps in the Florida Derby.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Big Brown romps in the Florida Derby.
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Big Brown Huge in Florida Derby Rout

Big Brown won by five lengths in his first stakes effort March 29 at Gulfstream.

IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa Jr.’s highly-touted Big Brown proved that all the hype was justified, as he led from start to finish in the $1-million Florida Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO), crushing 11 rivals to win by five lengths March 29 at Gulfstream Park while making just his third career start.

The eye-popping victory, which is sure to make the Boundary colt one of the betting favorites in the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), was most impressive considering the Kentucky-bred broke from the compromising post 12 and was making his first start in stakes company.

But under the confident handling of Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown put the race away before he reached the eighth-pole, cruising to the wire while never being challenged. The draw-dropping win capped what was a career day for trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., who won three seven-figure events in a span of eight hours. Earlier in the day, Dutrow trainees Diamond Stripes and Benny the Bull, both ridden by Edgar Prado, scored victories in Dubai World Cup events at Nad al Sheba racecourse overseas.

Though forgotten by most after watching the performance of the winner, Mount Joy Stables’ Smooth Air raced well to get second, in the process earning $200,000 and locking up his spot in the Derby. It was 7 1/2 lengths further back to the Peruvian mystery horse Tomcito, who also rallied nicely from last to get third. Hey Byrn was fourth.

The final time for 1 1/8 miles on a fast track was 1:48.16, just .37 seconds off the dirt track record set by Brass Hat in 2006.

Most who bet 3-2 favorite Big Brown had to be concerned when they saw the colt work hard to get the top spot around the final turn. Ridden aggressively by Desormeaux, Big Brown earned the front in a quick :22.76 opening quarter. He was alone on the lead and going well through what is normally a suicidal :45.83 half-mile. Nistle’s Crunch, who was a length back, and Face the Cat, were closest to the leader at that point, with Fierce Wind and Elysium Fields also in the mix.

By the time Big Brown ran six furlongs in 1:10.08, there was even more question as to what he would have left for the drive. But the answer was quickly learned, as the freakish colt continued to extend his lead and was three lengths ahead at the top of the stretch, with Desormeaux taking the same peak back at the field as he did when Big Brown won an allowance event by 12 ¾ length less than three weeks ago at Gulfstream.

Only Smooth Air, who was ridden by Manoel Cruz, was in the picture for the final furlong. The victory actually could have been by a wider margin had Big Brown not drifted out in mid-stretch and raced a bit greenly.

“My plan was not to get on the lead, but rather to get close enough to the rail so as not to get caught wide," Desormeaux said. "Riding him was like bounding through a meadow. He just galloped around. When a horse sets fractions like that and still tells me that he’s got more, and that the other horses can’t get to him, that’s something special. He’s a major talent; possibly the best horse I’ve ridden. I thought that after the first time I rode him. I’d have to say that he’s my (Kentucky) Derby horse.” 

Dutrow said: "We’ve got a Kentucky Derby contender. It’s a long way off, and a lot of things have to happen right, but I expected him to run just like what we saw. This day ranks on top of my career. He came out of the gate like we wanted him to. I loved being on the outside. It eliminated our chance of getting in trouble. Going into the race, the only way we cold get beat was if we got in trouble. In the first turn I knew it was over. I knew the horses in here couldn’t catch him. All I have to do is stay out of his way. I let him do what he wants.”

The winner paid $5, $3.80, and $3.20. The exacta (12-2) returned $68.80, while the trifecta (12-2-4) $702.80.

Aside from his allowance win earlier this month, Big Brown started just one other time in his career entering the Florida Derby. It came Sept. 3 on the turf at Saratoga when he demolished the field by 11 ¼ lengths. It was after this win that IEAH Stables purchased a 75% interest in Big Brown from Pompa.

But shortly thereafter, quarter cracks were discovered in both front feet, sidelining the colt for several months. Up until about six weeks ago, his connections thought there was not enough recovery time for a chance at the Kentucky Derby.

Out of the Nureyev mare Mien, Big Brown was bred by Monticule. He earned $600,000 for the victory.

Tomcito, who was foaled in Kentucky but had made all five of his previous starts in Peru, impressed jockey Jorge Chavez, despite finishing 12 1/2 lengths back.

“He ran a really nice race," Chavez said. "He got a little tired at the end, but he hadn’t run in a while. I think he has a lot of promise, and I think he wants more distance to his races. The track he ran at in Peru is a big track, a lot like Belmont.”

Cool Gator finished fifth, followed by Majestic Warrior, Nistle’s Crunch, Face the Cat, Da’Tara, Fierce Wind, Elysium Fields and B B Frank.

(Chart, Equibase)