Big Brown, pulled up by Kent Desormeaux, has been examined by veterinarians. “No one can figure this out,” his co-owner Michael Iavarone said.
I don’t know about you guys, but even though I have stated repeatedly that Big Brown is NOT a great horse, that he is simply one of a very poor crop of racehorses, I was very disturbed to see him struggling in the Belmont Stakes, and watching him fight jockey Kent Desormeaux as he was pulled up. So what happened to Big Brown this past Saturday, such that he lost the Belmont Stakes in such a spectacular fashion?
I think that Big Brown’s stunning loss was a combination of factors. First, as you recall, Big Brown is a very lightly raced horse. In total, he only had run five races during his short life, and he started the Belmont Stakes with only four previous races to his credit this year. In all his previous races, he had enjoyed extraordinarily good racing luck; he never started from an inside post position before; he never had a rough trip before; he never had dirt kicked into his face before. So basically, Big Brown had very little real racing experience to draw upon in the Belmont Stakes.
Second, Big Brown has suffered physical problems before — two quarter cracks in his front hooves kept him from racing for six months as a two-year-old. The fact that Big Brown raced on yet another quarter crack — a more serious injury than the bruised hoof that kept Casino Drive from running — is disturbing, to say the least. But Big Brown’s lack of physical durability is more than just a random flaw, it is due to breeding: a careful look at Big Brown’s pedigree reveals that his relatives ultimately were fragile horses. Both his mother and his father were lightly raced and were retired to the breeding shed after they sustained leg injuries. In fact, because Big Brown’s first race was run on grass — a much softer surface than dirt — one is tempted to surmise that this surface was specifically chosen to protect the horse’s unusually fragile feet and legs. Further, the additional physical stress of running the Triple Crown races during a five week period early in his life presented Big Brown with a serious test of his durability — something that his pedigree simply does not supply him with the ability to withstand.
Speaking of breeding, Big Brown’s pedigree is that of a sprinter, not a stayer, as one would expect for a horse running in the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes. For example, other racehorses sired by Big Brown’s father, Boundary, have demonstrated that they are fast, but are almost never capable of winning at distances longer than one mile. His mother’s side of the family have also demonstrated a similar lack of stamina. In contrast, the unbeaten (but also inexperienced) Casino Drive, who was scratched from the Belmont, was a serious contender at this distance because of his pedigree. Even though they each had different fathers, Casino Drive’s older sister, Rags to Riches, and brother, Jazil, each won the Belmont stakes in the previous two years, suggesting that Casino Drive might also be capable of the feat. So based on pedigree alone, Big Brown had no business being considered a serious contender in the Belmont Stakes.
The fact that Big Brown developed quarter crack might also have played a role in his loss. Even though his trainer, Rick Dutrow Jr., claimed that Big Brown’s three day layoff from training while his hoof was repaired had no effect on the horse’s performance, it is important to remember that Big brown was training for a race that was far longer than he’d ever run before, and also far longer than he was bred to run. So it is likely that this disruption to Big Brown’s training schedule did have an effect, even if that effect was only psychological rather than physical. And in a race such as the Belmont Stakes, psychological preparation also plays an important role in the outcome.
What about Big Brown’s human “team”? Did his trainer and his proclivity for drugs have anything to do with Big Brown’s loss? Even though Dutrow is widely recognized to be a smarmy person, I sincerely doubt that he had any effect upon Big Brown’s poor performance, especially when there were so many external factors that had a bigger influence than Dutrow. What about his jockey, Kent Desormeaux? I cannot say for sure, but I admit I was confused watching Desormeaux steering Big Brown all around the track as he looked for racing room — no doubt the horse was even more confused than I was, and he likely frustrated, too. But I doubt that Desormeaux’s inexplicably unprofessional actions actually cost Big Brown the Triple Crown — it wasn’t as though Big Brown was anywhere near the lead, unlike Real Quiet, who clearly lost the 1998 Triple Crown due to Desormeaux’s astonishing and inexcusable lack of professionalism.
In short, Big Brown’s inexperience and his lack breeding combined with his bad racing luck did not provide the horse with the necessary psychological and physical attributes to win the Triple Crown. Considering everything, I think that Desormeaux was correct to ease him up on the final turn instead of beating him up in the hopes that the horse might turn in a better performance. If Desormeaux had opted to beat Big Brown to force him to run faster, might he have caused the horse to injure himself further or to break down, as the gallant Eight Belles did a few weeks ago? In fact, considering everything, I think it is amazing that Big Brown has done as well as he has at distances beyond one mile.