NEW YORK Big Brown was back on the track a day earlier than expected, and trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. said the unbeaten colt looks as good as ever maybe even better.
The Triple Crown hopeful took a 1 1/2-mile jog around Belmont Park on a rainy Tuesday morning. It was the first time since Friday that Big Brown was out exercising following the discovery of a quarter crack on the inside of his left front hoof.
"I was very happy with this move," Dutrow said outside barn 2, where Big Brown was being walked by exercise rider Michelle Nevin.
Asked if he looked as good as he did before winning the Preakness on May 17, Dutrow said, "He might look better."
Big Brown will attempt to become the first Triple Crown champion in 30 years, since Affirmed in 1978, in the Belmont Stakes on June 7.
On Monday, hoof specialist Ian McKinlay treated the three-quarter inch crack, stitching it with stainless steel wire. By Monday afternoon, Dutrow and McKinlay spoke and decided if the hoof looked good Wednesday morning, the trainer would make the call on how to proceed with his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.
"I felt him going to the track was not only good for his conditioning, but also good for his mind," Dutrow said of his decision to get to the track earlier rather than wait a day. "He's been kind of aggravated. He don't know why he's not going to the track. He just doesn't understand why he's not doing it. And we can't explain it to him. So we let him go out there today and take the edge off of him. He's just getting too rough around the barn."
After Big Brown returned from the track, he was given a sponge bath and led around the inside of the barn by Nevin. At one point, he pulled Nevin to a stop at the end of the barn to pose for photographs until Dutrow shooed Big Brown away.
Asked if the wet weather was a concern, Dutrow said, "Not at all."
Dutrow said his training plans are not yet finalized but hopes Big Brown will have his final workout before the Belmont as early as Sunday or as late as Wednesday.
McKinlay was not at Belmont on Tuesday, but will examine Big Brown as planned Wednesday to make sure the healing process is on schedule.
"Ian's excited about this," Dutrow said. "He's not going to let anything get away from us. He'll be around."
On Monday, Dutrow called the injury a "hiccup," and said the training time Big Brown missed won't affect his performance in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the Triple Crown races.
"There's no way in the world that four, five, six, seven days of him missing on the track is going to affect his outcome and his racing ability when he runs the Belmont," Dutrow said. "There is no way this can affect him. He's not going to get tired because he missed a few days."
A quarter crack is common and not serious. Healing can range from a few days to a few months, depending on the severity of the crack. McKinlay says there is no infection, and Big Brown is in no pain, and the crack apparently did not bother the colt on Tuesday.
The injury was the first bump in the road for the 3-year-old colt who overpowered 19 rivals in the Derby and 11 more opponents in the Preakness. His five wins have been by a combined 39 lengths.
Foot woes are nothing new to Big Brown. When he first arrived at Dutrow's barn in Aqueduct late last year, he sustained an abscess in the sole of his left front foot, which caused a wall separation and sidelined him 45 days. In January, he suffered the same injury to his right front foot and missed another 45 days.
"Those were major obstacles," McKinlay said of the earlier foot problems. "We are not in that realm at all. This is actually very minor."
A quarter crack is a vertical crack in the hoof wall between the toe and heel of the hoof, usually extending into the coronary band, where the hoof meets the skin of the leg.
McKinlay compared a quarter crack to a person splitting a finger nail that goes up through the cuticle.
"You know how sensitive it is up by the cuticle," he said.