About 10 years ago, Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.'s address was Barn 1, Tack Room D, Aqueduct Racetrack, New York. Park Avenue, it wasn't.
"I loved it," he said, a hardy laugh following. "I was right there in the barn with my horses. I had my microwave set up. I was good. Really. If I lost everything and had to do it again, I'm there."
From there to here, Dutrow has emerged as one of the nation's top trainers. He also happens to have the expected favorite for Saturday's Kentucky Derby in unbeaten Big Brown.
And, Dutrow doesn't think his 3-year-old bay colt can lose. "I feel very confident that if Big Brown breaks with the field, he's going to run a big race," he said. "I just haven't seen any other horse with my eyes that can beat him."
The always engaging Dutrow held center stage for more than 30 minutes Tuesday morning at the media center on the backside of Churchill Downs. While it was chilly outside, Dutrow was inside warming a crowd of about 75 people with tales of his struggles, suspensions and social life.
He said the hardest part of his job is waking up at 4:30 every morning, "because I like to hang out with my people, and I can't be doing that all the time."
Of his numerous suspensions, many for medication violations, Dutrow said, "Half of them I deserved, half of 'em I didn't."
Asked if he ever brought women back to his digs at Aqueduct, his eyes brightened, he smiled and then answered, "Yeah," he said. "If I wanted to take out some girl, she'd say, `Where am I going to meet you?' I'd say, `Meet me at the barn.'
"Actually," he continued, "I never should leave the barn because when I leave the barn that's when trouble starts. When I'm in the barn, I'm just there with my horses and it's good."
It's been all good for Dutrow lately.
The son of the late Maryland Horseman Dick Dutrow came to New York and started with no horses and living in a tack room, usually used as a backstretch storage area. Since then he's moved way up in class, and has a public stable of more than 100 horses. In 2005, he won two Breeders' Cup races, the Classic with Horse of the Year Saint Liam and the BC Sprint with Silver Train. Last year, Kip Deville won the BC Mile.
This year has been sensational. Big Brown was sent to his barn after IEAH Stable bought a 75 percent share of the bay colt for a reported $3 million. On the same day Big Brown won the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., on March 29, Dutrow won two rich races in Dubai with Benny the Bull and Diamond Stripes.
When IEAH was looking to bring in a trainer when they began upgrading their stable a few years ago, they turned to Dutrow.
"We knew there were some issues, we checked it out and decided to go with him," IEAH Co-President Michael Iavarone said. "We wanted a trainer with a lot of ability, but didn't have a barnful of quality. We knew Rick could handle the quality horses. It's worked our great."
Dutrow faced early hoof problems with Big Brown before getting him ready to run, but is now set for the race of his life.
"Watching the Derby when I was young, I want to get there," he said, "I've had really good horses that if they were good Derby time, we would have been there. Yeah, this is a whole different thing. This is like a dream come true. I can't wait to get the game on We've had enough training. We're ready."
Dutrow still plans a final three-furlong workout Thursday, primarily because he doesn't want to change the Big Brown's schedule.
"I'm training him for a horse race," Dutrow said. "It doesn't make me feel anything different just because he's training for the Kentucky Derby, even though it's the biggest race in the world. That's the only way that I'm looking at it."
Kent Desormeaux, a Marylander like Dutrow, will be aboard Big Brown. Desormeaux is well aware of the Dutrow name but didn't really get to know Rick until he climbed aboard Big Brown.
"All I know is the man has got Big Brown and he's got to be really, really thrilled," Desormeaux said. "We're the two happiest guys on the racetrack planet right now."
Dutrow sure sounded that way Tuesday.