NEW YORK - Somewhere out there, a little girl named Lucy has fallen in love with Big Brown.
"Dear Big Brown," she scrawled in purple crayon on a note taped to the colt's stall. "I heard you were feeling down. Get better soon and win the Triple Crown. Love, Lucy. XOXO."
In brown crayon, she drew a picture of the horse. She also put a real Band-Aid on the spot near his cracked left front hoof.
The warm and fuzzy feelings generated by the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, however, don't necessarily extend to his owners and trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., a slick group of New Yorkers who surely didn't come from Central Casting.
"Definitely not," a smiling Michael Iavarone said, standing outside Big Brown's barn on Monday.
While Big Brown aims at completing the Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, Iavarone and his partner Richard Schiavo, co-presidents of IEAH Stables, want to raise US$100 million and turn the business into a hedge fund whose assets are thoroughbreds. Only investors with $500,000 or more can sign up.
The IEAH website describes Iavarone as "a high-profile investment banker on Wall Street." With his slicked-backed hair, pricey suits and year-round tan, he certainly looks the part and definitely stands out when he drops in for a visit to the barn.
But Iavarone has acknowledged that his Wall Street career consisted of selling penny stocks for brokerage firms and that recently ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange was his first visit there.
"We've all done things in our past that come back to bite us when you leave it exposed and I did," Iavarone said. "I've gotten very thick-skinned.
"The only downside of it is it takes away from where the story is and that's Big Brown. He has the last say and he'll tackle that issue Saturday."
The sheiks, princes and Kentucky blue bloods who dominate racing typically make their money in other businesses and spend it pursuing the sport.
But Iavarone and Schiavo, who own IEAH Stables, are using racing as a way to make their millions, along with minority owner Paul Pompa Jr., who owns a Brooklyn trucking company and who named Big Brown after one of his biggest clients - United Parcel Service.
That makes them different than owners like the late Paul Mellon and William T. Young, who could afford to run their horses beyond their three-year-old seasons because their incomes weren't dependent on purse money or breeding rights.
Dutrow's bombast in a sport where blame and jealousy run neck-and-neck has ticked off some people. Others praise his candidness.
The trainer gets bashed in online racing forums, where he's been called a cheat who has no concern for his horses. He's got a rap sheet, too, getting suspended for repeated medication violations and his own drug use. He talks about how he loves to party with "his people."
"If we were making a movie," about Big Brown and his Triple Crown adventure, "we may not cast Richard Dutrow," Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
Yet, there he is, centre stage with his undefeated horse. Dutrow has already said that Big Brown winning the Belmont is "a foregone conclusion."
"Some people kind of root for a guy that's a little mouthy like that and other people certainly don't like it," said trainer David Hofmans, whose Touch Gold spoiled Silver Charm's 1997 Triple Crown bid. "He is controversial in all aspects of the game."
Others have rallied to Dutrow's defense, rebuking fellow fans who bring up his admitted cocaine and marijuana use.
"Why people do not like me is not important to me. I got enough people that like me out there, too, you know," Dutrow said. "They just do not know me. They are just reading about what they have been writing about me and some of it is true, some of it just does not add up to a whole lot. It does not bother me."