Big Brown towered over the competition in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, becoming only the seventh undefeated winner of the storied race when romping to a 4 3/4-length decision as the 2-1 favorite.
The champion racehorse got off to a slow start at stud, producing no graded stakes winners in North America from his first two crops, but fortunes have changed for the 10-year-old stallion in 2015.
With offspring Dortmund and Puca, Big Brown will be seeking a rare sweep by sire in the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks this weekend at Churchill Downs.
Dortmund is unbeaten from six starts, including a scintillating 4 1/4-length victory in his final Kentucky Derby prep, the April 4 Santa Anita Derby. He's conditioned by three-time Kentucky Derby winner and Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
Projected to be the second favorite among 20 runners on Mike Battaglia's Kentucky Derby morning line, Dortmund is battle-tested, winning a pair of narrow decisions over talented rival Firing Line during the winter, and appears to be improving.
Given his outstanding form, Dortmund will take some beating.
Puca doesn't bring the credentials of Dortmund into the Kentucky Oaks, but there is still plenty to like about the three-year-old filly.
A 16-length maiden winner in her penultimate start last year, Puca advanced into a wall of traffic and was forced to stop in the stretch when making her stakes debut in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, eliminating any chance of winning as she checked in a close sixth. And she hasn't had the opportunity to show her best in two outings so far this season.
Puca missed the break with a bobbling start in the February 21 Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park, rallying past seven rivals to record a respectable fourth following a 3 1/2-month layoff. The Bill Mott-trainee continued to show more in the April 4 Gazelle at Aqueduct, finishing a good second after a less-than-favorable trip in which she was forced to apply early pressure to the loose-on-the-lead pacesetter and eventual winner Condo Commando.
The Kentucky Oaks should set up much better for Puca's rallying run style, with plenty of speed signed on for the Friday feature, and she looks poised to take another step forward.
Dortmund and Puca both look very capable of being in the winner's circle.
Big Brown raced only once as a two-year-old, winning a turf maiden event, and wasn't a serious Kentucky Derby prospect until opening his three-year-old campaign with a 12 3/4-allowance victory at Gulfstream Park in early March.
The athletic colt followed with a smashing five-length tally in the Florida Derby, generating a whopping 110 BRIS Speed rating and clearly establishing himself as the horse to beat five weeks later. He arrived at Churchill Downs to great fanfare and proceeded to make everything look so easy on Derby Day.
Big Brown overcame an extreme outside post (#20), a wide trip and inexperience -- no horse had won the Kentucky Derby with only three previous career starts since 1915. After scoring as much the best, Big Brown appeared destined to end the long-standing Triple Crown drought when rolling through Pimlico with another easy win in the Preakness Stakes.
Foot problems derailed his Belmont Stakes bid, with Big Brown being pulled up and eased as the 1-5 favorite. He came back later that summer to post a couple of nice wins, including the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, but re-injured his foot training for the 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic and was retired.
Big Brown entered stud at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky and his first foals were born in 2011. After mostly disappointing results from his first two crops in 2013-14, a majority interest was sold to Andrew Cohen's Sunrise Stables and Gary Tolchin's Golden Goose Enterprises and Big Brown was relocated to Dutchess View Farms in Pine Plains, New York last fall.
"Any new stallion that doesn't produce a classic horse on dirt in America right away, you're interest is going to fall dramatically," said Erik Bishop, General Manager of Sunrise Stallions. "Now that Big Brown's got the stock coming along, with Dortmund and Puca, we're hoping he's going to take off."
Big Brown is standing for $8,500 stud fee in 2015 and Dortmund's success has been good for business.
"We're proud of the job Baffert's done with Dortmund and being in the breeding business, it's so important to get your offspring into the right hands in order to get stars like (Dortmund) out there," Bishop said on April 24. "Yes, business has been good. Big Brown's bred 14 mares in the last four days."
Bishop will travel to Churchill Downs to watch Big Brown's prized progeny perform.
"I think they both have great chances," he said before imparting some advice:
"Make sure you play the (Oaks-Derby Daily) Double."