Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

Big Brown Down

This horse was different. Seriously. No, really. Ten times since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, a horse entered the Belmont Stakes having won the first two legs of the trifecta. And ten times, after being showered with more and more pre-Belmont hype and attention, the likes of Smarty Jones, Charismatic, and Funny Cide had lost. But Big Brown was such a sure thing that his loudmouth trainer, Rick Dutrow, guaranteed a win to everyone in earshot. The bay colt had cruised to a 4 3/4-length win in the Kentucky Derby, and so overpowered the Preakness field that his jockey eased him across the finish. Not even a pre-race injury to Big Brown's left front hoof could quiet confidence in the colt. He was a rock star: as Big Brown entered the Belmont track on race day, thousands of fans craned their necks just to get a glimpse. Yet instead of history, they witnessed heartbreak, as the horse appeared to have nothing to give on the biggest of stages. "I had no horse," said jockey Kent Desormeaux, who again eased up Big Brown, but this time long before the finish. The horse came in dead last, but there appeared to be no injury to explain its woeful performance. Instead, observers focused on a different possible explanation. In the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, Dutrow had given Big Brown a steroid, a move that was legal but widely criticized. He discontinued that practice for the Belmont, though we'll never really know if that's what cost him. The whole ordeal sparked stricter steroid policies within racing. In October, Big Brown suffered another injury before the Breeder's Cup. The three-year-old will never race again.