BALTIMORE - Like any true celebrity, he kept the masses waiting for hours.
Then Big Brown made his grand entrance at Pimlico Race Course.
Accompanied from the airport by a police escort with sirens wailing and lights flashing, the dazzling colt headed for the prime spot of real estate on the grounds - the corner barn occupied each year by the winner of the Kentucky Derby.
For added flair, two UPS trucks flanked the convoy as it rolled through the gates. Those boxy, brown trucks had never made a delivery quite like this one.
Fans, horsemen, the media - everyone, really - had waited impatiently for the BBOC (Big Brown on Campus). The entire sport has its Triple Crown hopes pinned on the star who claimed the racing stage for himself following a 4 3/4-length victory at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
Right now he has the fanfare that goes along with the luxe life of a Derby winner and the odds-on favorite for the Preakness. It will continue as long as he wins today and moves on to the Belmont in three weeks.
Right now, it's good to be the king.
"He gets love all the time," trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. said.
And why not? The rest of the field has endured a week being treated like lowly subjects, their names recognizable to few outside their inner circle. Only Gayego decided to follow Big Brown from the Derby
- and he finished 17th two weeks ago. So anticipated was Big Brown's arrival that when a horse van showed up just before 8 p.m., the media horde scurried into position.
The van was carting a pair of other entrants, Racecar Rhapsody and Tres Borrachos, and once that became clear, no one cared. The horses walked off the van and to their stable without a single photographer on their tails. When Big Brown showed up nearly three hours late because of bad weather in Louisville, all that was missing was the red carpet.
"Big Brown's a serious horse," said Ken McPeek, who trains Racecar Rhapsody.
The Big Brown bravado is what separates the leadup to Preakness from the Kentucky Derby. The celebrities on Millionaire's Row at Churchill Downs are as much the story before the race as the horses that run for the roses. What's Jessica Simpson wearing? Where will the Playmates party? Hey, isn't that O.J. Simpson?
At Pimlico, the Derby champ is the main event, period.
"The minute he arrived," said Chick Lang, Pimlico's former general manager, "he was a celebrity."
Dutrow loves the spotlight and he's added plenty of his own hype with brash boasts that Big Brown is the horse to beat today. No taking it "one race at a time" with Dutrow. He's already professed to dreaming about the Triple Crown and how awesome it would feel to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont for the first time in 30 years.
"I believe he enjoys the attention," Dutrow said, referring to his star pupil. "I believe he likes meeting new people."
That's a little tough right now.
Two garbage cans were stationed about 10 feet from the stakes barn yesterday and roped to the front of the fence in a square to keep enthusiasts from poking their noses anywhere near his snout.
"No flash photography, folks," yelled a security guard. "Please keep your distance."
The low-hanging awnings also made it tough to catch a peek of Big Brown munching away on hay in stall 34. No, not even Big Brown gets to feast on crabcakes or Boog's BBQ.
The stall is next to No. 40, the traditional throne of the Kentucky Derby winner at the end of the stakes barn. A sign over the stall reads, "Stall 40 was the home of these outstanding Preakness winners," including Carry Back (1961), Secretariat (1973), Affirmed (1978) and Smarty Jones (2004).
Dutrow said he was honored to have Big Brown sleep in that barn for a few nights.
"When we used to be stabled here just a few barns away, I used to come over here when all the big horses would come in and I would always dream about having one in that stall," the Maryland native said. "It's thrilling."
Not all the Derby champs stick with the traditional winner's stall. Fusaichi Pegasus was stabled in a quieter barn and trainer Bob Baffert once feared War Emblem would be distracted by a nearby filly and stabled him in stall 32.
Dutrow said he made the switch at his brother's suggestion, though he didn't exactly say why.
The stakes barn is watched around-the-clock by six security guards.
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