Big Brown loses 2008 Belmont Stakes for many good reasons, but still has shot at greatness
by Kenneth Strong, Horse Racing Handicapper, Predictem.com
Trainer Dutrow to testify at Congressional hearings into breeding, drugs and breakdowns
June 7, 2008 Heavily favored Big Brown lost the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes on Sunday, failing in his bid to become thoroughbred horseracings 12th Triple Crown winner. But he didnt just lose the Belmont - he did it in dramatic fashion - pulling up in the stretch under jockey Kent Desormeaux. In doing so, Big Brown unwittingly added more fuel to the fire for the upcoming Congressional hearings into safety in horseracing, which of course will include steroid use.
And thats a good thing.
There are a number of reasons Big Brown lost the Belmont Stakes, but its difficult to say which one contributed most to his poor performance. For starters, instead of surging to the lead early, which he very well could have done despite an awkward break, he was manhandled by Desormeaux behind subsequent lone speed horse Da Tara. Big Brown then tried to move outside on the first turn and bumped with Anak Nakal. He did finally get himself into the same running position he had for the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, pressing from the outside, but after five furlongs had been run it was clear this wasnt the same horse that had won the previous two legs of the 2008 Triple Crown.
Da Tara went on his merry way setting unpressured fractions of 23.82, 48.30 and 1:12.90. Meanwhile Big Brown was being asked by Desormeaux after six furlongs had been run and it was clear he had no horse. After a mile in 1:37.96 Da Tara had opened a two-length lead and Big Brown was clearly not going to finish in the money. Da Tara increased his margin to four lengths after a mile and a quarter in 2:03.21 and added another 1 -lengths in the stretch drive to win by 5 lengths. The final time for the 1 -mile race was a slow 2:29.65.
Denis of Cork rallied to finish second, 2 -lenghts in front of Anak Nakal and Readys Echo, who dead-heated for third. There wasnt really a lot to talk about after that, besides the reasons that Big Brown lost. None of the other horses in the race had any real excuses.
Only one horse in the last 20 years had won the Belmont Stakes in wire-to-wire fashion. (Commendable did it in 2000.) But in this case all the other jockeys, bettors and handicappers thought Big Brown would make his usual run at Da Tara and wear him down before the stretch. When that didnt occur it made everyone look like dummies as Da Tara romped home at 38-1.
Da Tara has a good stamina pedigree, being by Tiznow-Torchera by Pirates Bounty, so it wasnt out of the question that he could wire a mediocre field IF he happened to be the lone speed. And trainer Nick Zito certainly knew how to prepare a horse to go 1 -miles. He won the Belmont Stakes with Birdstone in 2004.
There were some questions about the payoffs after the race, but they were borderline acceptable considering that Anak Nakal and Readys Echos dead-heated for third, cutting the trifecta and superfecta payoffs in half. And there were a combination of good reasons why Big Brown failed to run his race.
It was his first time racing at Belmont Park, it was a very hot day, he was racing on a quarter crack, his training had been light prior to the race, he got off to a poor start (which apparently now is being blamed on the presence of the starter on the track in front of him), he was bumped on the first turn, and he had been taken of the steroid Winstrol. How many more reasons do you need? Maybe his trainer upset the Goddess of Wagering by saying that Big Brown winning the race was a foregone conclusion.
Ordinary horses would not have been able to overcome all the above, but some of the all-time greats (and previous Triple Crown winners) might have been able to. It appears that Big Brown does not belong on the elite list which includes champions such as Affirmed, Seattle Slew and Secretariat all of whom had that extraordinary quality that made them Triple Crown winners. Even Spectacular Bid, who would have easily handled Big Brown, was unable to get the job done in the Belmont Stakes.
But Big Brown may yet get his shot at greatness. Hes apparently scheduled to run again in the Travers Stakes or the Haskell, and maybe even the Breeders Cup Classic. Hell be back on the steroid Winstrol for those races according to his trainer which might help keep the discussion of drug use and abuse in horseracing at the forefront after the Congressional hearings into the safety of horseracing.
Big Browns trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. and 12 other thoroughbred experts have been called to testify at the hearings, which begin on June 18 in Washington D.C.
Dutrow is one of more than a dozen Thoroughbred industry representatives scheduled to testify in Washington, D.C., at a Congressional hearing looking into safety issues and drug use in horseracing. The House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection called the hearings Breeding, Drugs, and Breakdowns: The State of Thoroughbred Horseracing and the Welfare of the Thoroughbred Racehorse after Eight Belles broke down following the 2008 Kentucky Derby and had to be humanely destroyed.
Dutrows testimony will certainly be animated, but the real question will be whether the truth will come out at the hearings. Testimony from anyone who stands to gain financially from the regular use of drugs in horseracing would certainly have to be viewed with suspicion. And there is so much more to this issue than just steroid use. But at least Big Brown will do his part by keeping drug use in horseracing in the news. Should be interesting.
And if the news coverage of Big Brown on steroids helps rid horseracing of ALL drugs for good, hell have accomplished much more than any Triple Crown winner did. Hell have helped clean up the sport of horseracing and set the thoroughbred breed (and horseracing business) back on a path to greatness.
Now that would be a long shot morally worth betting on.
2008 Belmont Stakes Results and Payoffs
June 7, 2008 - 11th Race Belmont Park
6 Da Tara $79.00 $28.00 $14.80
4 Denis of Cork $5.40 $4.10
8 (Dead Heat for 3rd) Anak Nakal $7.60
9 (Dead Heat for 3rd) Readys Echo $6.20
$2 Exacta 6-4 paid $659.00
$2 Trifecta 6-4-8 paid $3,703.00
$2 Trifecta 6-4-9 paid $3,954.00
$2 Superfecta 6-4-8-9 paid $48,637.00
$2 Superfecta 6-4-9-8 paid $47,309.00