Big Big Star, the win, the layoff, and the race that wasn’t

Sometimes the big problem with racing past performances isn’t what they do tell you; it’s what they don’t tell you.

Take the case of R and K Racing’s Big Big Star. The five-year-old Lemon Drop Kid gelding arrived for a maiden claimer at Laurel Park Sunday off what appeared to be a 27-month layoff. Shaking off the rust, he sped to the front under jockey Kevin Gomez, opened some daylight in upper stretch, and resolutely held off favored Given to Fly to earn the victory.

Some bettors may have taken caution at the long layoff, though he was, at 9-2, the second choice of the wagering public.

What the past performances didn’t reveal, however, was that Big Big Star had already run in a race, albeit not one that counts for race record purposes. Trainer Keri Brion had sent Big Big Star out – along with five other runners – in a 1 ½-mile training flat race at the Greenspring Valley point to point races at Shawan Downs.

“He finished, like, fourth, I think,” Brion said after Big Big Star’s win. “It was a nice effort. He’s been training real good.”

In fact, one of Brion’s other runners in that March 31 training race was Crabs N Beer, who dead-heated for an allowance win at Laurel Saturday. So, yeah, that seems like a productive heat. Turns out giving a horse a 12-furlong race while carrying 155 pounds, as Big Big Star did at Shawan, is a pretty good way to leg him up to go nine furlongs with 122 on his back.

“It’s a nice track. Good spot, just a nice day out for him,” Brion said of the training race at Shawan. “To get a horse ready off a two-year layoff, you needed to do something, right?”

Big Big Star is the first foal to race out of the Kantharos mare Sister Kan, who won seven of her 15 career starts. He sold for $60,000 at Keeneland as a yearling and began racing in late 2021 – his two-year-old year – in Kentucky for trainer Mike Maker. In his debut, at Turfway Park, he finished fourth behind Tawny Port, who later ran seventh in the 2022 Kentucky Derby and became a multiple graded stakes winner.


“He was supposed to be a really good horse,” Brion said. “He had some time off, came to me, we got him as a bit of an experiment just to see.”

After a sixth-place finish in his second start, Jan. 7, 2022, Big Big Star hadn’t raced again until Sunday.

 “I think he had an issue behind, maybe,” Brion said. “I don’t really even know. He had been turned out at Three Diamonds Farm for a year, and it was kind of a package deal of horses.”

Big Big Star
Big Big Star broke his maiden in his first official race in over two years. Photo by The Racing Biz.

Big Big Star came to Brion last October. He was showing several works on the page, mostly over the synthetic at Brion’s Fair Hill base but a gap between a half-mile move March 22 and a five-furlong work April 23. That is the slot in which the training race took place.

Big Big Star was in for a $36,000 tag in Sunday’s contest, but Brion said he likely wouldn’t be up for a claim again next time out. Then again, horses don’t always follow our plans. Sunday, for example, Big Big Star jetted right to the lead while Brion’s other runner, British Sea, assumed a stalking position in second.

“That wasn’t the game plan,” she acknowledged with a laugh. “The game plan was for the other one to go, and this one to sit back and come with a run.”

That part of the plan didn’t work, but the rest of it sure did. British Sea ended up third in the contest, less than a length behind Big Big Star, and you have to imagine his graduation day is coming soon.

Also over the weekend, another Brion-trained runner, Auchincruive, broke his maiden over the jumps in a dominant win at Virginia’s Foxfield Races. As a flat horse, Auchincruive wasn’t much, but notably, he did provide what will likely end up as the second-to-last victory of Hall of Famer King Leatherbury’s training career when he broke his maiden on the flat at Delaware Park in 2021.

“The owner [Norman Lewis] was just like, ‘I’ve always wanted to have a jumper and this and that, like, would you take him?’” Brion said. “I said sure. And he won first out yesterday for him and he flew in — the owner lives in Washington — and it was great. So yeah, we’ve had a good weekend.”