BALTIMORE Rick Dutrow Jr. insisted there was no special motivation to wear this specific hat.
The cap was simply available for the trainer's trip to the barn. Still, the message on his hat conveyed the same thought on the minds of all those racing fans who saw Big Brown dominate the Preakness:
Two down, Big Brown. One more to go.
No one believes the big bay colt can win the Belmont and claim racing's first Triple Crown in 30 years more than his blunt and bold trainer.
"If he comes out of it good and trains good, I'm not going to see a problem," Dutrow said Sunday. "He looks like he's ready."
Big Brown had the stakes barn at Pimlico pretty much all to himself Sunday, a day after jockey Kent Desormeaux rode him to a 5 1/4-length victory at the Preakness to set himself up for a Triple Crown try in three weeks. He heads to Belmont positioned to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
"Everybody is going to find out where he belongs," Dutrow said. "If he wins this next race, he's going to be up there with any good horse that has ever run. He'll be in the same breath as Secretariat, Affirmed, all those good ones."
All those horses were tested. Big Brown has yet to find a colt that can push him down the stretch.
Secretariat had Sham. Affirmed had Alydar.
Big Brown has no true rival. Dutrow has openly maligned the talent of the rest of the 3-year-old field and no other horse has come close to pushing Big Brown to the limit. That's just fine by Dutrow.
"I don't want anybody to come out of the woodwork and start a rivalry," Dutrow said. "I like things just the way they are."
One colt that could derail the Triple Crown bid is Casino Drive.
Casino Drive waits at the Belmont as the wild card in Big Brown's ride toward immortality. Japan-based Casino Drive won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont by 5 3/4 lengths in his second career start with Desormeaux aboard. Casino Drive won his only other race in Japan by 11 1/2 lengths.
Casino Drive is related by blood to the last two Belmont winners, Jazil and Rags to Riches.
"He's the only one that can even entertain Big Brown's stride," said Desormeaux, who will ride Big Brown in the Belmont. "He can run. He's a nice horse."
In typical Dutrow bravado, he said he'd love to own Casino Drive but said the import can't beat Big Brown.
"What I saw of him, he doesn't have that quick turn, where he just turns it on," Dutrow said.
Big Brown might have to turn it on at the demanding 1 1/2-mile Belmont. Smarty Jones (2004), Funny Cide (2003), War Emblem (2002) and Point Given (2001) are among the more recent horses to win the first two jewels of the Triple Crown series, then fall short at the "Test of Champions."
"The way he's been running his last two races, it certainly doesn't seem like the mile-and-a-half is an obstacle, but you never know," Dutrow said. "But I'm not afraid of the distance."
Don't bet the stable on this, but winning the 12th Triple Crown in history might end Big Brown's career.
IEAH Stables co-owner Michael Iavarone has said Big Brown won't race as a 4-year-old, and Saturday's multimillion dollar deal with Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., for the colt to stand at stud could possibly lead to his retirement after the Belmont.
Dutrow, however, expects Big Brown to race in the Travers Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Classic. Dutrow would love a showdown with Curlin, last year's Preakness winner, at the Breeders' Cup, which offers hope for fans to enjoy Big Brown for at least a few more months.
Then again, Smarty Jones' owners wanted their red chestnut colt to keep racing as a 4-year-old until a bruised left front hoof made Pat and Roy Chapman retire him two months after he lost the Belmont.
No sense in jeopardizing the horse's health or a big bucks deal with a horrific misstep.
Big Brown deftly has avoided any rough spots. Desormeaux didn't even need his whip Saturday and twice sneaked a peek down the stretch to see if anyone was gaining on Big Brown. The victory was nearly as easy as the 4 3/4-length margin two weeks earlier at the Kentucky Derby.
"It almost looked like a replay of the Kentucky Derby," Desormeaux said.
Dutrow slept for only a couple of hours because of a Saturday night spent celebrating. Those extra winks can wait. Dutrow opted to hit Pimlico early Sunday morning to visit his prized colt instead of sleeping in.
Big Brown will be shipped Monday morning to New York.
Then the real fun and big city pressure begins.
"I'm ready for anything," Dutrow said. "As long as the horse is OK, nothing else matters."
Dutrow will wait about two weeks before Big Brown gets a light workout again and will stick to the same plan of letting the colt hit the track for a short run through the stretch the morning of the race.
Every move Dutrow made so far has worked to perfection. No sense changing direction now.
"Everybody wants to see something great," Dutrow said. "Maybe we're going to see that. It would be a lot of fun."