ST. PETERSBURG — The program sits on Vera Filipelli's desk.
She glances at it unknowingly, and many times on purpose.
It is a program from Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, where the Derby Lane spokeswoman watched Big Brown win the Florida Derby on March 29 and become an instant contender for the classics.
"What a thrill to actually see this horse in my first big horse event ever," she said. "And now he's the biggest thing and going for the Triple Crown."
Filipelli was in South Florida to report on 2007 All-America team captain Flying Stanley in the Hollywood World Classic at nearby Mardi Gras Racetrack. She was invited to Gulfstream Park by James and Pauline O'Donnell, owners of thoroughbreds and greyhounds. Her seating was in the track's upper level near the finish line.
"Everything was right in my lap," Filipelli said. "It was almost like I could reach out and touch (Big Brown). He was a striking horse, just beautiful and majestic. Before he went in the (starting) gate, he took this extra second and seemed to know the people were there. It's like he went, 'Oh, yeah; I'm the man.' It was so cool.
"Everyone chanted, 'Brown! Brown! Brown!' It was crazy, like people screaming at a celebrity. In my heart, you could tell he had a lot of support. Other than (Derby Lane's) $1-million race and opening some tracks, the anticipation was tremendous; you're jumping out of your skin. I didn't realize the magnitude of what I was seeing.
"He left that gate flying. To see him out (in front), I'm almost thinking, 'Poor thing is going to get caught.' But he just kept running."
Big Brown, starting from the No. 12 post, led gate to wire for a 5-length victory over dual-stakes winner Smooth Air, third-place finisher in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar. The Grade I race was Big Brown's first stakes victory after winning at the maiden special weight and allowance ranks.
Derby Lane has joined in the 3-year-old's mania by designing a commemorative "Big Brown for Triple Crown" T-shirt that will be given to the first 2,000 patrons today.
"I realize I'm not at Belmont, but we're part of this horse's history," Filipelli said. "I can't imagine anybody not wanting to be part of this. I'll be wearing my Big Brown T-shirt, I'll tell you that."
More horses: Big Brown and Denis of Cork were broken in training within 20 miles of each other. With Big Brown at Eddie Woods Training Center in Ocala, Denis of Cork was at Scanlon Training Center in Williston. Denis of Cork was bred at Westbury Stables in Reddick, north of Ocala. "There's just a constant flow of good horses out of Ocala on a daily basis," Woods said. "People that don't know Ocala think it's like Hicksville South. When they come here, they actually love it because it's a pretty area. It just keeps it on the map." … Five stakes are on the Belmont Stakes undercard, including the $400,000 The Just A Game Handicap. Bayou's Lassie, winner of the Turf Distaff at TBD, seeks her first Grade I win in the 1-mile turf event (Race 7, 3:36 p.m.).
GREYHOUNDS: Red Dirt Road can reach two milestones with a win tonight in the $8,000 T.L. Weaver Memorial Stakes at Derby Lane. A victory would give the Kim McAuliffe trainee his first stakes win and 50th career triumph. Red Dirt Road has set a meet win record with 39. The field includes Flying Macbeth, two behind in the win standings, Jack's Rapidfire, Kiowa Ak Kieffer, Van's Escalade, Sol Deli, Fly Bye Popstar and Bobbye's Donjuan. The 550-yard event is Race 8 (9:30 p.m.) with first place worth $3,200.