BALTIMORE -- It was just like the old days at Old Hilltop. Jockey Kent Desormeaux, aboard a huge favorite, was looking confidently behind him, then he kicked away from an overmatched field, before virtually easing his mount to the wire.
For the hundreds of times he had won races by a similar fashion in Maryland during the late 1980s. He ruled the circuit, as few jockeys have ever ruled a circuit, but this victory at Pimlico might ultimately prove the most meaningful of all for Desormeaux. With his resounding triumph aboard Big Brown in the 133rd Preakness on Saturday, Desormeaux is just one more ride away from Triple Crown immortality.
"That was scintillating," said Desormeaux, the 38-year-old Hall of Fame jockey who won a total of nine riding titles at Pimlico and Laurel Park. There he dominated Maryland racing in a three-and-a-half year stint that ended in January 1990, when he left for Southern California.
Desormeaux could not have drawn up a much better trip for himself and his unbeaten colt. After quickly getting into the race after Big Brown "slipped a little" at the start, according to Desormeaux, the colt went quickly to the rail and saved ground through the first turn, temporarily moving into second behind Gayego. Riley Tucker then zoomed up to the outside, while Desormeaux, after quickly escaping from what he described as a potentially "hairy" predicament, deftly maneuvered Big Brown to a clear outside position, just a couple lengths off Gayego.
"That was the cozy spot," Desormeaux said.
At the half-mile pole, Big Brown drew even, outside of Gayego and Riley Tucker while "in a canter," according to Desormeaux.
"I was really trying to slow him down," he said.
But at about the quarter pole, Big Brown was set free, and that was that.
"I just let him go," Desormeaux said. "Bye-bye! Wheee!"
Desormeaux never even raised his whip on Big Brown, and by the sixteenth pole, he was easing the colt, with the win margin for the 1-5 favorite officially being 5 1/4 lengths.
"I wanted to save something for the Belmont," he said.
"Kent just guided him to the wire," said Rick Dutrow, trainer of Big Brown.
The victory was the second in 11 Preakness mounts for Desormeaux, who rode Real Quiet to victory in the 1998 Preakness. Real Quiet, seeking a Triple Crown, was defeated by a nose by Victory Gallop three weeks later in the Belmont.
Although he left here more than 18 years ago, Maryland racing fans long have claimed Desormeaux as their own. So, too, does current Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who in his obligatory post-race address from the infield cupola called Desormeaux, "a Maryland jockey." For one memorable day, if not forever.