BY JIM WELLS
Conversation about the Kentucky Derby wasn’t hard to find on the backside Wednesday morning. Big Brown’s impressive performance was still on the minds of just about anyone you cared to ask.
Trainer Doug Oliver was standing at the desk of stall superintendent Mark Stancato when the subject of the Derby and the upcoming Preakness Stakes was broached.
“There’s not going to be a Preakness,” Oliver said. “This horse is a total freak.” The way Oliver sees it, the Preakness folks can mail the trophy to Big Brown’s connections right now. Ditto for the chaps at Belmont Park. Oliver is certain that if Big Brown stays sound, the racing world will have its first Triple Crown winner in 30 years.
He expects the Preakness to be a romp in the park for the bay colt.
“Second in the Derby was the filly (the deceased Eight Belles),” Oliver continued. “She was five lengths back and won’t be in the Preakness. How far back were the rest of them?”
For the record, Eight Belles finished 4 3/4 lengths behind the winner. Denis of Cork finished third, 8 1/4 lengths behind Big Brown. Tale of Ekati was next, by a full 11 lengths to the winner.
Big Brown overcame his place in the No. 20 hole on the far outside, made a strong, commanding move to the wire and had more in reserve as Kent Desormeaux galloped him out.
It was truly an amazing performance.
Big Brown is by Boundary, a son of Danzig from the Nureyev mare Mien. Stancato, although admittedly impressed by Big Brown’s dazzling Kentucky Derby victory, is not ready to jump on the Triple Crown bandwagon quite yet.
“What about the quarter cracks,” he said, referring to Big Brown’s earlier infirmity. “And somebody’s got to convince me about his pedigree.”
Oliver says you can throw the standard pedigree analysis out in this case.
“Go back in the pedigree seven or eight (generations),” Oliver said. “This is a horse that reached back for just the right combination of genes. He’s an absolute freak.”
Richard Grunder, Canterbury’s jockey agent extraordinaire, was equally impressed by the Derby winner.
“When have you seen something like that?” he asked. “That horse went from a maiden special weight to an allowance, to the Florida Derby to the Kentucky Derby, and won them all, just like that.”
Big Brown has ascended to the top in just that fashion. “He was like a man among boys,” Grunder added.
“He’s a monster, the real deal.”
` So much so, that Grunder recalled another horse with similar strength and ability to put away his opponents.
“He’s remindful of Seattle Slew,” he said.
Maybe _ just maybe _ Oliver is on to something.
THE PHOENICIANS ARE ALMOST HERE
The Canterbury Park-Turf Paradise loop has has evolved into the ideal arrangement for a number of stables. The Canterbury meet kicks off just about the time the meet in Phoenix ends. Last year, for example, a trainer who left here after the meet ended on Labor Day could reach Turf Paradise and get settled before the meet began there on Oct. 5. In the spring, the two meets don’t overlap more than a couple of days at most, if at all.
Dave Van Winkle and Doug Oliver have been doing the Arizona-Minnesota connection for years now. Both have found good clients here and kept those relationships for years. The two trainers have had their share of success in Minnesota, too. Oliver has won three training titles; Van Winkle has won two.
Other horsemen from the sunbelt are giving Minnesota a try this spring, too.
Foremost among them is Keith Bennett, who won the training title at Turf Paradise, and will have a stable of 45 horses or more at Canterbury. “His horses are due in today (Wednesday),” said Stancato. “He’ll arrive Thursday night.”
Valorie Lund is another trainer giving Canterbury a try. “She has 15 in now,” Stancato said, “and another five or six to come.”
Shawn Talbot was due in Wednesday night, also a first timer from Phoenix. “He’ll have 25 to 30 horses,” Stancato said. “Shawn’s a former Steve Asmussen assistant from Texas.”
` Stancato and local HBPA president Tom Metzen, who is the executive officer of the branch in Phoenix, had a hand in convincing the Phoenicians to give Minnesota a try.