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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Big Brown Turns Beige, Never Fires in Belmont Stakes; No Triple Crown Winner for 2008

No Triple Crown This Year: Big Brown was eased to finish last after a bumpy, unhappy trip for the first mile or so of the Belmont Stakes. That's assistant trainer Michelle Nevin, his regular rider, who ran out on the track to take charge of the horse. Photo credited to TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images. 

Oh boy. They turned for home in the 2008 Belmont Stakes and there was he was: Big Brown, patched hooves flashing in the summer sun, rolling along on the outside, ready to make his move, just like he always does. Make his move. Make his move. Make his...

Jockey Kent Desormeaux stood up in the irons and pulled back and up. The race was over for his horse. They both knew it, apparently. He pulled up and cantered home last.

In an interview later he is quoted as saying (referring to the patched hooves), “There were no popped tires. He was just out of gas."

Did I miss it or were there no on-air post-race interviews with the IEAH power brokers who own Big Brown? Did they not congratulate the winners? I understand that it is the trainer's responsibility to be with the horse and make decisions about his health and care back at the barn.

Winning trainer Nick Zito, one of New York's most popular and successful trainers, won the race with a long shot who ran an incredible race and just kept going. He deserved to be congratulated.

Also to be congratulated: the Japanese connections of pre-race second favorite, the lightly raced Casino Drive, who is laid up with some sort of bruise on his foot. They chose not to poke holes in their horse's sole to drain the problem area. It probably could have been soaked, poked, and drawn out and then patched or glued. But kudos to them: they didn't take a chance with their horse.

Dutrow took all the chances. His horse has a patch on a patch on one foot, the remnants of a reconstructed heel made out of adhesive material on the other. His horse missed his monthly Winstrol (steroid) injection in the face of criticism over the medication, even though it is legal (whether right or wrong, it is legal). He was running without the turndowns that he sported on his hind feet in the Kentucky Derby (note that the jockey complained that the horse wasn't handling the track well) and he was coming back from rundown injuries on his hind pasterns and heel bulbs suffered in the Preakness.

And it was 93 degrees and humid. And his third race in five weeks.

Big Brown's trainer took all the chances. The jockey chose not to take a chance, not to whip and drive the horse to a middle of the pack finish over the line with possible dire consequences in the final furlong in front of the grandstand. He did not know what was wrong with his horse. He just knew he was out of horse.

Meanwhile, a horse we never heard of ran a great race for a great trainer at their home track in their home town.

Pop the champagne anyway. We've just come off three months of high-profile reporting about horses' hooves, injured hooves, and the people who are trying to help horses get sound and stay sound. Hoof repair specialist Ian McKinlay is still the man of the hour and has made a lot of friends in the media that will benefit the rest of the hoof world.

One more quote, again from the jockey, referring to Thoroughbreds of the past: “I cannot fathom what kind of freaks the Triple Crown champions were.”

So pop the champagne, and I'll do the same. Maybe stay home tonight and watch some archival video footage of Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Citation, Assault, Count Fleet, War Admiral, Gallant Fox, Omaha, Whirlaway and Sir Barton. Enjoy the freak show, it's as close as you're going to get, for now.