THERE WAS something very different about this colt. He was pulled from his mother's womb in the broodmare barn at Monticule Farm in central Kentucky on the afternoon of April 10, 2005, deep bay in color but with a strange white dot at the top of his left front leg, near his rib cage. It was perhaps the size of a quarter, and none of the three people in the stall at the time of his birth had ever seen such a marking on a horse of his coloring. "What the devil is that?" said Monticule owner Gary Knapp. The horse's handlers, many of whom were Mexican, nicknamed him Punto Blanco, Spanish for "white dot." � He was purchased for $60,000 at a yearling sale in the fall of 2006 by Eddie Woods, then 48, an Irishman with a sprawling Florida farm who had been a jockey in his youth and now operates as a pinhooker, buying yearlings for the purpose of teaching them to run and reselling them for a profit. Woods saw the white dot, grown to the size of a golf ball on his unnamed baby. "Some good horses have something about them that's totally different from other horses," says Woods. "It's their x factor. That's his thing: a brilliant white spot in a very obscure place."
In April 2007 Brooklyn trucking company owner Paul Pompa bought the horse from Woods for $190,000, named him Big Brown (to honor his company's relationship with UPS) and sent him to race for trainer Patrick Reynolds at New York's Belmont Park. When Big Brown walked down the ramp from a long trailer to his new home, Reynolds was struck by the white spot, now the size of a silver dollar. "The first thing I thought of was [Federico] Tesio," says Reynolds, referring to the renowned European breeder who died in 1954. "He said the truly great horses have some freakish characteristic, and here was this marking. I'm thinking, Wouldn't it be something if that proved true?"
The racetrack is a place where hard men will sometimes give themselves over to romance and superstition, and where the pain of long days and too many defeats is salved by the depthless hope that the next horse will be the right horse. It is a place where otherwise pragmatic people will look at a white spot and see greatness explained.
"You believe," says Woods, "that the spot was placed there by the hand of God."
BIG BROWN has arrived at a point where that backstretch faith intersects with proven dominance. He has moved to the cusp of history. On May 3 in Louisville he won the Kentucky Derby with a precocious run that was largely overshadowed by Eight Belles's breakdown and the ensuing (and ongoing) debate over thoroughbred racing safety. Last Saturday, at creaking old Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Big Brown won the Preakness by 5 1/4 lengths, a performance that was stunning in its ease.
Jockey Kent Desormeaux asked Big Brown for his best run with only a quarter mile to race—"I kissed at him, like when you call your pet," Desormeaux said afterward—and then only for long enough to gap an overmatched field of 11 others before letting up with more than a 16th of a mile to go. "After today," said Jeremy Rose, the rider on third-place finisher Icabad Crane, "what hope can we find?"
On June 7 in New York, Big Brown, unbeaten in five starts, will attempt to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978, and the 12th in history, to win racing's Triple Crown. He is the seventh in 12 years to win the Derby and Preakness, yet none of those horses reached the Belmont Stakes with more Triple Crown potential, or with broader implications attached to his performance—helping to heal a sport wounded by sadness and controversy.
This status would have seemed unfathomable when Punto Blanco was gamboling around Knapp's 630-acre farm in Lexington. The jewels of Knapp's 2005 breeding class were two colts from the last crop of glamorous sire Danzig. Big Brown was the product of a hopeful mating between Boundary, a sire who had produced no great runners, and Monticule broodmare Mien (by Nueyev, a standout racer in Europe). "He did not get superstar attention," says Monticule farm manager Dominique Tijou.
Likewise Big Brown did not overwhelm Woods with his athletic ability when he broke the horse on his farm in Florida. "He showed himself to be a nice horse," says Woods, "but you ask me if I thought he would be what he is today, I'll tell you I don't have that kind of imagination."
Only when Pompa gave the horse to Reynolds, his regular New York--based trainer, did Big Brown flash excellence. One morning in August 2007, on the turf course of a training track at Saratoga, he ran a half-mile in a shockingly fast 44 4/5 seconds. On Sept. 3, with planned jockey Edgar Prado hurt, Reynolds put Rose on Big Brown for his debut race, which he won, explosively, by 11 1/4 lengths. "I was glad Jeremy Rose was on him," says Reynolds, "because I remember how athletic Jeremy was in the  Preakness when Afleet Alex almost went down. Big Brown almost ran out from under him."