SOUTH JORDAN The sporting world has found its next Michael Jordan, and his first name isn't LeBron or Kobe.
It's Big as in Big Brown.
That comparison, at least, is how some Utah horse enthusiasts and trainers are looking at the thoroughbred's dominating performances in recent pressure-packed situations at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. His two convincing wins have Big Brown one victory away in Saturday's 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes from becoming the first Triple Crown winner in three decades.
Judging conversations with horse lovers this week at the Salt Lake County Equestrian Park, the race and a coveted spot in history are Big Brown's to lose.
"I personally think he could fall down and get back up and still win it," said Dave Duncan, a horse owner and trainer from Bluffdale.
"He's going to win the Triple Crown," predicted quarter horse trainer Rob Allen, "because there's not a horse who can beat him."
Kevin Milne, an ex-jockey from South Jordan, said he has never rode nor seen a horse as dominant as Big Brown. Neither has Draper's Gary Nelson, who also trains quarter horses.
"If he runs anything like he has the first two races, I think it's a given," Nelson said. "I haven't seen a horse with his kind of kick at the end since Secretariat."
Secretariat earned the Triple Crown back in 1973. Affirmed was the most recent horse to win the trifecta, but that was 30 years ago.
Stuart Pope, a thoroughbred trainer from Sandy, said this Saturday's field will be tough for Big Brown to beat. Even winning one out of 10 races is a great accomplishment, he explained, so to do it against the best in three consecutive huge races would be a huge achievement, especially because there will be fresh horses going up against the slightly dinged-up champion.
"Everybody's going to try to prevent him from being a Triple Crown winner," Pope said.
Try as they might, Pope believes only Big Brown's injured foot his front left hoof has a quarter crack that's not believed to be a hindrance might get in his way of becoming the 12th horse to win the three big races back-to-back-to-back. However, the field, he added, is a long, long shot.
"He's probably going to run away and hide with it even with a bad foot," Pope said.
Pope's horses are just across the way from those of trainer John Brocklebank, whose former horse, Brother Derek, won the Kentucky Derby in 2006. Pope is rooting for Big Brown to pull through, and he only dreams of coming across a horse of that caliber.
"I'd love to have a chance to have a colt like that, but they're few and far between," he said.
All the trainers said they're eager to watch, though some will be at a kids horse show in Tooele so they'll have to Tivo the race. They're excited to potentially see history in the making.
"Every once in a while," Nelson said, "you get an athlete like that."But, he added, they're very rare. Kinda like Mike.