Big Brown took on a whole new meaning Saturday at Belmont Park.
First, with nearly 100,000 people on hand to watch what they believed would be the coronation of Big Brown, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, as horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 30 years, they lost water pressure in the facility for several hours as the temperatures rose to nearly 100 degrees.
Then, with a hot, angry crowd watching and booing, Big Brown came across the finish line in the 140th Belmont Stakes not first, but a distant last in a nine-horse field.
Hey, UPS, what did Big Brown do for you yesterday?
It was not a proud day for the horse racing industry in the restrooms or on the track. The only saving grace was that no horse had to be killed after the race, as Eight Belles was after breaking her legs following the Kentucky Derby.
Now 11 horses have won the first two legs of racing’s prized trifecta only to lose in the Belmont Stakes since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978. And, just like in 2004, when Smarty Jones was beaten at the finish line by a Nick Zito trained 36-1 long shot named Birdstone, Big Brown was taken out of the race from the time they left the starting gate by another Zito long shot, this one the 38-1 Da’ Tara.
When Smarty Jones failed to capture the Belmont, there were tears of sadness and laments of sorrow on the track, even from the winning jockey, Edgar Prado. Yesterday, though, there was no glory in defeat for Big Brown, as the crowd booed when jockey Kent Desormeaux brought him across the finish line well after the rest of the field had passed by.
No, this was a horse that would have been a grudgingly admired Triple Crown winner, a nondescript horse story with a Gordon Gekko-type Wall Street owner and a trainer who has the reputation of Dr. Feelgood of the thoroughbred industry, with a long list of infractions for using illegal drugs on his horses.
Surely trainer Rick Dutrow‘s record of doping horses now will be raised in light of Big Brown’s shocking performance. Before the Preakness three weeks ago, Dutrow revealed he gave his horses, including Big Brown, a monthly shot of the anabolic steroid Winstrol - Roger Clemens’ drug of choice, according to his former trainer Brian McNamee.
But on Thursday Dutrow vowed he would not get another shot before yesterday’s Belmont Stakes, even though use of the drug for horses is legal in New York state.
The Big Brown that ran in yesterday’s Belmont Stakes was not the same Big Brown that won the Derby and dominated the Preakness so thoroughly that Desormeaux never went to the whip and actually held the horse back as they neared the finish line.
The Big Brown that ran Saturday was not the same Big Brown that had beaten Da’ Tara by 23 lengths earlier this year in the Florida Derby.
Desormeaux said as much when interviewed shortly after the race and declared, “I had no horse.”
At least not the horse he had ridden before. That horse may have been left behind in a syringe somewhere.
Meanwhile, there might have been cheering among some horse racing observers as they watched Dutrow, the former Maryland trainer who set a new standard in the industry for arrogance with his prerace predictions of a Big Brown cakewalk, hustle away from the camera wearing a sweat-drenched shirt. When he was approached by an ABC reporter for a comment shortly after the race, Dutrow reportedly said, “Please don’t think about it.”
It is likely that even with the hunger for a Triple Crown winner, there were some who were elated with Big Brown’s embarrassing defeat coming at the hands of one of racing’s good guys, Zito, the New York trainer who has now spoiled two Triple Crown bids in the past four years and has made the Belmont Stakes his stage for success.
“We have a good history with this race,” Zito said. “It’s New York, it’s our home, it’s one of the great races of all time.”
As far as Big Brown, Zito said, “He just wasn’t himself today, and we took advantage of it … if Big Brown was himself today, he would have been tough to beat.”
About an hour after the race, Desormeaux said he felt numb. “A little lost,” he said. “I am feeling no emotion whatsoever.”
That should tell you that Big Brown was not the horse to carry this great Triple Crown legacy. A loss by a worthy horse would have sent a wave of sadness and regret through Belmont Park yesterday. It was just numb at best, angry at worst.