NEW YORK - A jog around the racetrack was all trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. needed to see before declaring Big Brown back - and maybe better than before.
"He looks like an absolute picture," a delighted Dutrow said yesterday morning after his Triple Crown hopeful resumed training while continuing to heal from a slight crack on the inside of his left front hoof.
"You would never think that he would look this good after what he's been through - running so often and shipping, flying. He just looks unbelievable."
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner appears set for his attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner in the Belmont Stakes June 7.
With Dutrow reenergized after watching Big Brown move around the track for the first time since Friday, he was asked if the rest of the field, including top threat Casino Drive, is in trouble.
"As we are right now, I'd have to say yes, because I know our horse will be fixed, if not tomorrow, the next day," he said, his confident air back for the first time in several days. "It's not a big deal. And we will be able to put our breeze in one time and that's all that I think that we really should have to do."
Dutrow said unbeaten Big Brown could have his final serious workout before the 1 1/2-mile Belmont as early as Sunday and as late as Wednesday, depending on the weather.
The big bay colt threw a scare into Dutrow and the rest of team Big Brown when a quarter crack - about three-quarters of an inch long - was discovered Friday. Hoof specialist Ian McKinlay stitched up the crack with stainless steel wire Monday, and the injury apparently is healing rapidly.
So much so that when Dutrow and McKinlay spoke Monday night, it was decided if the trainer thought the hoof looked good in the morning, a trip around Belmont Park would be in order.
"I was very happy with this move," Dutrow said outside Barn 2 as Big Brown was being walked inside by exercise rider Michelle Nevin.
At one point, the colt pulled Nevin to a stop at the end of the barn to pose for photographs until Dutrow shooed Big Brown away.
Asked how he looks now compared with the days before the Preakness, Dutrow said, "He might look better. He's eating everything we throw at him."
Did he notice any weaknesses, even with the crack in the hoof?
"Not that I can see," Dutrow said. "I can't see a weakness in his game right now. I felt him going to the track was not only good for his conditioning, but also good for his mind."