- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2008

BELMONT, N.Y. | The race wasn’t even a quarter-mile old, the heat was oppressive and myriad problems could be in the offing.

But Kent Desormeaux didn’t care. As soon as he steered Big Brown to the outside of Da’ Tara and Tale of Ekati for a smooth trip early in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, he thought the 30-year Triple Crown drought would be coming to a celebratory end.

“When I got outside going into the first turn, I said, ‘This is it. I got it,’” Desormeaux said. “Unfortunately, he was out of gas.”

In fact, Big Brown did have nothing left in his big tank. The grueling schedule finally caught up to the big colt around the second turn when, for the first time in his six-race career, he didn’t respond when Desormeaux asked for acceleration.

Unable to catch eventual winner Da’ Tara and unlikely to finish second or third, Big Brown was taken out of the race by Desormeaux near the end of the second turn and finished last, becoming the 11th horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown’s opening two legs, but lose the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.

“We did really good with him,” trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. said. “It was a very disappointing race, but the horse looks like he’s fine. He didn’t get the Triple Crown, but we got the Derby and the Preakness and that was great.”

Da’ Tara, who was beaten by 23 lengths in his last matchup with Big Brown, led wire to wire and beat Denis of Cork by 5 1/4 lengths. Anak Nakal and Ready’s Echo finished in a dead heat for fourth before a crowd of 94,476.

Da’ Tara paid a whopping $79.00 to win and the exacta was an astronomical $659.00. New York-based trainer Nick Zito won his second Belmont. In 2004, Birdstone spoiled Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown hopes.

“The champ wasn’t himself today,” Zito said of Big Brown.

While Da’ Tara galloped out after the victory, Desormeaux struggled to get Big Brown pulled up until about 100 yards past the wire. He was examined by on-track veterinarians before being led back to the barn area, where he was being walked 40 minutes after the race.

On-call veterinarian Larry Bramlage said Big Brown not getting an injection of anabolic steroids since April 15 likely wasn’t the cause of the performance.

“I doubt that comes up to be the answer because it’s not that kind of situation,” he said. “The anabolic steroids keep him eating and aggressive, both of which he showed all week long.”

Said Dutrow: “When they turned for home, something wasn’t right.”

Ten years ago, Desormeaux was denied a Triple Crown when Victory Gallop edged Real Quiet by a nose.

He said the emotions Saturday were completely different.

“Anytime I get beat by less than a length, I absolutely think there is something I could have done,” he said. “That race ate me up. This won’t eat me up. This horse wasn’t lame or sore, but there was something amiss. He was probably just tired, and it was in the horse’s best interest to get him back to the barn and re-charge his batteries.”

Big Brown - the 1-4 favorite - broke well from the No. 1 post but as the field came into the first turn, it appeared the colt was anxious to get running instead of settling into a relaxed stride that worked so well in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Several times entering the turn, he jerked his head up, a sign that he wanted to get going.

Desormeaux quickly got him settled into an outside position behind Da’ Tara and Tale of Ekati. Halfway through the race, those three horses plus Anak Nakal had separated themselves from the other five horses, which didn’t include the scratched Casino Drive (hoof bruise).

“There were a couple of times where he thought it was time to go, and he jumped into the bridle but long before we went into the last turn, I knew I had no horse,” Desormeaux said.

When Big Brown was asked to make his move, he was cooked. Da’ Tara extended his lead and Big Brown was passed by four horses in just a few seconds. It was then that Desormeaux decided to call it a day, his colt failing to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner.

“We were talking about that in the jocks room, and I can’t fathom what kind of freaks those 11 Triple Crown winners were,” Desormeaux said. “I won the Derby with some pressure, won the Preakness in an armchair ride, but for whatever reason, he wasn’t resilient. These occasions have made me realize how awesome those horses were.”

Da’ Tara was an afterthought in breaking down the Belmont. He hadn’t won since January. This was only his second Grade I race.

Denis of Cork completed a solid Triple Crown campaign with a second to complement his third-place finish in the Derby.

SEEN AND HEARD FROM BELMONT PARK

Sights and sounds from Sir Scribble’s fifth Belmont Stakes Day and second involving the possibility of a Triple Crown:

9 a.m.: The TV reports that Casino Drive - the likely second choice - was scratched about 90 minutes ago by his handlers. Dozens of Japanese media who came here for the race are undoubtedly weeping.

10:30 a.m.: It wouldn’t be a horse race without the nuts from . They lined both sides of Hempstead Parkway with signs that included one comparing Big Brown to Barry Bonds.

11:03 a.m.: Arrive in the Belmont Park press box. The air conditioning is working.

11:40 a.m.: Scrib has his annual helping of Nathan’s French fries. Delicious. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any corn dogs.

Noon: There are plenty of Washington Generals-like horses (losers) on today’s card. Our favorites - River of Dreams (2-22), Executive Search (3-42), Unbridled Danger (3-30), Commissioner Chris (5-40), Cougar Bay (2-19), Shake The Bank (3-32), Dr. Jess Jr. (2-28) and finally, the 8-year-old Introspect (6-48).

2:05 p.m.: They can pour beer, but they can’t spell it. A sign on the third floor touts the sale of “Budwiser” and “Corrs Lite.”

2:35 p.m.: Scribble reaches the fourth floor and the Garden Terrace that is enclosed from the heat. A woman is sitting at a desk labeled “Betting Instructor.” I immediately inform Thom Loverro of The Washington Times, who counters, “How about a toilet that will flush.”

3:32 p.m.: We learn that the water pressure in the GRANDSTAND is also malfunctioning. This could get ugly. Or it could send people to the exits.

3:50 p.m.: Loverro returns to the windows … and loses (again). “If they paid out for the 2-3-4 horses, I’d be in Fat City,” he fumes. He is now 0-for-16 in the last two Triple Crown race days.

4:14 p.m.: Word begins circulating the bathrooms in the building have been locked shut.

5:52 p.m.: Purchase six $2 Big Brown-to-win tickets. Scrib has no intention of cashing any of them in.

6:17 p.m.: Big Brown leads the field of nine onto the track.

6:31 p.m.: Long shot Da’ Tara at 38-1 wins the Belmont. Big Brown is taken out of the fight in the second turn and finishes last.

-Ryan O’Halloran

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