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Superstar emerges from Derby

Big Brown's trainer is cautiously optimistic about his chances at Triple Crown. Racing community mourns loss of Eight Belles.

May 05, 2008|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It was triumph and tragedy as horse racing gained a superstar and lost a competitor this weekend at the Kentucky Derby.

The tragedy was the death of filly Eight Belles on a major stage. It was a freak accident, and longtime horse racing observers, including veterinarian Larry Bramlage, said they had never seen anything quite like it, a horse suffering two broken ankles at once.

Trainer Larry Jones wasn't blaming the track or anything else for his horse collapsing after galloping out for nearly a quarter of a mile after crossing the finish line.

Eight Belles' death comes on the heels of the well-chronicled Barbaro tragedy of 2006 and European star George Washington being euthanized on the track in front of the grandstands at October's Breeders' Cup.

The superstar is Derby winner Big Brown, who appears to have a good chance of becoming horse racing's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Next up is the Preakness at Pimlico in Baltimore on May 17 and then the Belmont in New York on June 7.

Big Brown was bought for $190,000 by Paul Pompa Jr. at Keeneland's April sale last year. Pompa gave him the name because, as a trucking executive, he does business with United Parcel Service. The company refers to itself as Brown because of the color of its trucks.

Big Brown won his first race by 11 1/4 lengths and then scored a 12 3/4 -length victory in an allowance race.

The son of Boundary gained national attention in his third race with a five-length victory in the Florida Derby, and then came the 4 3/4 -length victory in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

Big Brown became the first horse to win the Derby with only three starts since Regret in 1915.

Pompa sold a majority interest in the colt after his first race in September 2007 to a group that operates under the name IEAH Stables. It is headed by Mike Iavarone and Richard J. Schiavo, who live in the New York area.

They brought in Dick Dutrow Jr. to train the horse and Kent Desormeaux to ride him.

Before the Derby, Dutrow was so confident about his horse's chances, he was saying he couldn't be beat and the race would be a mismatch.

Turns out he was right.

But he is taking a more cautious approach going into the Preakness.

"Now things start to change," Dutrow said. "Maybe there's going to be some hotshot speed horse in there. Maybe it will rain and it will be sloppy and some other horse will really like it.

"There are a lot of things that are going to be different now, but I like our chances because we have the best horse. And that always helps."

Big Brown's Derby victory was so thorough, it appears none of his Derby rivals will make the trip to Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course, a Preakness spokesman said.

"We're going to Pimlico with expectations of winning the race but it's not going to be like it was for the Derby," Dutrow said. "If it was five weeks away instead of two I'd be talking big."

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California horses didn't fare well in the Derby, with Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John doing the best of the group with a sixth-place finish.

But Southern California-based filly Intangaroo pulled off an impressive victory in Saturday's $334,800 Humana Distaff, a seven-furlong affair for fillies and mares that was held here two races before the Derby.

Intangaroo, a 14-1 shot, generated payouts of $30, $12.50 and $6.80.

Owned by Carl Grether, who runs a family farm near Camarillo, Intangaroo got the final jump to edge Baroness and another Southern California horse, Hystericalady, in a three-horse photo.

The 2-1 favorite, Sugar Swirl, finished fifth. Sugar Swirl is owned by Frank Stronach, the chairman of Magna Entertainment, which owns Santa Anita.

Before the race in the paddock area, Stronach and Grether wished each other good luck.

Ridden by Alonso Quinonez and trained by Gary Sherlock, Intangaroo covered the seven furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.03. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred filly earned $201,348 for her fourth victory in 10 starts. Grether paid $37,000 for the horse.

Intangaroo won the Grade I Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 2 and finished third in the Las Flores on April 6.

"She really vindicated her win in the Santa Monica," Sherlock said. "A lot of people thought she lucked out in that race."

Intangaroo was a 26-1 choice in the Santa Monica and paid $55.80 to win. Hystericalady was the 1-5 favorite in the Santa Monica and finished fourth.

The first race of Intangaroo's career was June 30 at Hollywood Park, and she won it at 11-1. A few days before the race, Carl Grether's father, Tom, who had been battling Parkinson's disease, asked his son to place a $400 bet on the filly.

Tom Grether was unable to watch Intangaroo race in person and died the next day.

"This horse has a very special place in my heart," Grether said after Saturday's race.

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larry.stewart@latimes.com

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