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Still few answers for Big Brown

Two exams show no medical cause for Belmont finish. Future schedule is unchanged.

June 09, 2008|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- In horse racing -- and life in general, for that matter -- there is rarely a foregone conclusion.

That was proved once again when, despite trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.'s confident proclamations, Big Brown not only lost his bid to become horse racing's first Triple Crown winner in 30 years, he finished last in Saturday's Belmont Stakes after being pulled up by jockey Kent Desormeaux coming around the far turn.

After two thorough post-race examinations, the cause of Big Brown's poor performance remains a mystery.

"He's sound, he's clean," Mike Iavarone, the co-president of Big Brown's majority owner, IEAH Stables, said Sunday.

"Scoped clean. Feet ice-cold. Quarter-crack not an issue," he added. "We went over him good last night and again this morning, and there's nothing that shows up."

For now, all that's known for sure is Big Brown ran out of gas and Desormeaux chose not to force the issue and risk injury to this valuable animal.

The loss leaves many in the sport wondering just what might have been had Big Brown won.

Iavarone said tentative plans call for Big Brown to use the Grade II $500,000 Jim Dandy on July 27 at Saratoga as a prep for the Grade I $1-million Travers on Aug. 23 at Saratoga.

"Unless something shows up in the next couple of days, we're looking to maintain his training schedule," Iavarone said. "The only thing we're resorting to right now is the track might have been too deep for him, and he didn't like it.

Iavarone and Dutrow told The Times last week that they were definitely planning to run the horse in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Oct. 25.

But Big Brown won't run in any of those races as a Triple Crown winner, which means his marquee value has dropped considerably.

Oh, but what could have been -- undefeated Triple Crown winner Big Brown taking on 2007 horse of the year Curlin. Throw in highly touted but untested Casino Drive, who was scratched from the Belmont the morning of the race because of a hoof injury, and you would have had one of the biggest races imaginable.

It would certainly have been the highlight of the 14-race Breeders' Cup that will be held during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita Oct. 24-25. The event has become so big it will be televised on three networks, ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, and there will be nine hours of coverage over the two days.

As for Saturday's Belmont, ABC's race coverage, which ran from 2:30-4 p.m., got a national metered-market overnight rating of 10.5.

The half-hour before that, which is designated as pre-race coverage, got a 4.5. Those numbers compare to a 3.5 and a 1.8 for the Belmont last year, when a Triple Crown was not on the line. This year's Kentucky Derby got a 9.5 overnight and the Preakness a 6.4

Local rating for Saturday's Belmont included a 7.7 in Los Angeles and a 12.4 in New York.

The race portion of NBC's coverage of the 2004 Belmont, when Smarty Jones was going for a Triple Crown, got an overnight rating of 15.6.

Curlin, who hasn't raced since winning the Dubai World Cup by 7 1/4 lengths March 29, will run in the Stephen Foster Handicap on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

If Curlin and Big Brown end up squaring off in the Breeders' Cup -- Curlin is not eligible for the Travers -- things still could be pretty interesting.

But you wouldn't be getting comments like the one Dutrow delivered on a local betting television network two weeks ago. Referring to Curlin's losing to the filly Rags to Riches in last year's Belmont, Dutrow said: "I've seen Curlin get beat by a filly. I can't imagine there's a filly breathing air that could beat Big Brown."

Steve Asmussen, Curlin's trainer, countered with this last week in the New York Post: "In Dutrow's own words, he referred to his horse as fragile. I don't think that's an adjective that's going to describe Curlin."

Whether Big Brown was too fragile or not to win a Triple Crown, Desormeaux knows just how tough it is to do.

This was his second failure with a Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner. He was aboard Real Quiet when he was nipped at the wire by Victory Gallop in the 1998 Belmont.

Asked what it will take for a horse to win the Triple Crown someday, he said:

"I can't fathom what freaks those 11 Triple Crown winners were. It's unfathomable to me.

"I mean, because I won the Derby with some pressure. I won the Preakness in an armchair ride. And for whatever reason, Big Brown wasn't resilient enough" to win the Belmont.

Trainer Bob Baffert, who didn't have a horse in this year's Belmont, said Desormeaux made the right move when he took Big Brown to the outside and eased him up.

"Kent will do that," Baffert said. "He cares about the horse, and he knew he was empty. He wasn't going to come in whipping him. He wasn't going to embarrass him."

Baffert also stuck up for Dutrow, whose remarks regarding Big Brown and the inferiority of his opponents had rubbed many the wrong way.

"It's a competitive game, and Rick is a competitive guy," Baffert said. "None of those guys [knocking Dutrow] have statues with little horses on top," emblematic of Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories.

"But Rick has won a Kentucky Derby and a Preakness. When those guys have statues, they can talk.

"I told Rick: 'You won the Kentucky Derby. That's the hardest thing. Focus on that.' "


Neil Milbert of the Chicago Tribune contributed to

this report.

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