06/08/2008 3:05PM



Big Brown would have won the Belmont and the Triple Crown yesterday if he'd run his usual race, but he obviously didn't. His connections remained puzzled and "perplexed" Sunday morning, but something clearly went terribly wrong after a mile. Big Brown was unresponsive when asked to make his usual move and in enough distress to be pulled up shortly thereafter.

This was not a Crown-busting Belmont where a worthy rival close in ability to the favorite stepped up his game and ran the better race, a la Easy Goer, Touch Gold, Victory Gallop or Empire Maker. Big Brown effectively didn't show up. Da' Tara reeled off progressively slower front-running fractions, and was perfectly catchable by horses of high quality but there weren't any still running in the stretch. The winner's 2:29.65 for 12 furlongs earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99, the lowest Belmont in the 20 years since the Beyers have been published, and one could argue that even a 99 was slightly generous.

Big Brown's performance was a bit reminiscent of War Pass's last-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby just three months ago, where some argued he had been exposed as a pretender, others said there had to be a health-related explanation, and the whole thing remains a mystery, as it often does when a good horse runs a horrifically bad race. That race also came to mind since War Pass sure began the year as a likelier candidate than Da' Tara to put owner Bob LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito into the winner's circle after a Triple Crown race this year.

Two other races came to mind after the Belmont, ones involving previous skirmishes between the winning and losing connections. In the 2005 Woodward, Rick Dutrow ran two overmatched sprinters at Zito's Commentator to soften him up for Saint Liam. In the Wood Memorial two months ago, IEAH entered the rabbit Inner Light to wear down War Pass early for the benefit of their Court Vision. Both times it "worked" insofar as compromising Zito's chances. Zito never complained publicly about either incident, and I'm not saying he entered D'Tara and Anak Nakal in retribution, or instructed their riders to surround Big Brown on the first turn, but there was at least a pinch of karma involved in the way it all worked out.

I'm not going to try to pretend I liked Da' Tara, who was not one of the four alternatives to Big Brown I had gotten myself alive to in the pick-four for a small score. The only retrospective self-flagellation I'll indulge in was being too quick to dismiss his effort in the Barbaro Stakes on the Preakness undercard, where he lost a photo to Roman Emperor in the final strides. The time of that race (1:42.10 for a mile and a sixteenth) was in the same ballpark as Big Brown's 1:54.80 in the Preakness if you took it at face value instead of thinking the track slowed down or that Big Brown could have run a lot faster had he been extended rather than geared down late.

I doubt we'll ever get a definitive explanation for what happened to Big Brown in the Belmont. Romantics will say that the deities who guard the pantheon of greatness kept out a horse who wasn't The Anointed One, a horse who wasn't quite as fast or accomplished or deserving as the three great ones who are our only Triple Crown winners in the last 60 years. Horseplayers of a more cynical bent will simply shrug and say that heavy favorites often lose, and that this was simply the 11th straight Derby-Preakness winner to come up short in the Belmont.

---I'm pretty sure there's a $1.18 million pick-six carryover awaiting us at Belmont when racing resumes Wednesday. For whatever reason -- confusion because of the $1 million guarantee yesterday? -- Equibase did not report the pick-six pool or a carryover amount, so everyone's charts show only a 5-of-6 payoff of $1,106, and NYRA does not have its usual Carryover banner on its homepage. [Update: Ah, there it is.] I remember getting one brief glance at posted pick-six probables, and my memory is that the 2,6 and 8 -- Guadalcanal, Da' Tara and Anak Nakal -- were the only uncovered horses.

---Sorry about the failed iPhone-blogging experiment yesterday. I spent the first four races trying to make it work, but slow servers and intermittent wi-fi outages just made it impossible. Tempting as it was to duck out of the heat and into an air-conditioned pressbox, I was stubbornly determined to soak up the day in the stands, so I spent the afternoon in the great outdoors, perspiring, wagering and participating in the spontaneous conversion of men's rooms into unisex facilities amid water and plumbing outages.

It felt more like an oppressive day at Saratoga than a Belmont Day, though decidedly less crowded than the Smarty Jones and Funny Cide years. The crowd count of 94,476 and commingled handle of about $99 million were both 15 to 20 percent lower than the 2004 record numbers, though up sharply from 2007, when there was no Triple Crown on the line.

There was plenty of other good racing on the Saturday card, and I'll compose some thoughts on it tomorrow after spending some time with the charts and replays.

greg More than 1 year ago
Once Big Brown gets his usual dose of steroids he will probably run well again. No mystery here. There should be a total ban on all drugs in racing nationwide.
RichP More than 1 year ago
20$ fro Belmont admission is a bargain. It's a special event you pay special event prices. If 20$ is to much to pay to watch the belmont stay home. You want to talk about rip offs how about pro football forcing you to buy all the exibition games in order to get a season ticket. You pay more for an all star game than you do for a regular baseball game. If you can get a ticket w/o going to a scalper. Name one major profesional sporting "event" All start ganme Playoff etc.) that you can get general admission to for $20
JZ More than 1 year ago
Absolutely great comments, many by fans and afficiandos of this great sport. It's comforting to see there remain a legion of fans like me (who started out betting the ponies in 1970 at the big A and Belmont)passionate about a great sport being ruined by the same ailment afflicting America -- greed, lack of vision, and bravado (as in the case of Team BB)who are eventually exposed for the shallow and vain louts they are. The absolute bizzare nature of this race complete with "assurances of victory", the 50+ lengths of victory in five previous races (albeit against a most inferior group of 3 year olds...pulling up the horse in the stretch, post race results revealing absolutely nothing wrong with the horse, trainer and jockey unsure or unwilling to explain anything clues including what their pre-race strategy was, makes for a "Lone Gunman Conspiracy" mentality ready to catch fire. Especially if BB is going along doing great in training for the Travers and suddenly pulls an Afleet Alex. Or worse yet, runs in the Travers and BOMBS. Then the investigations will begin. Maybe it won't be a Big Deal but the...nature of Team BB makes me think if of the Wall Street[ers] who look for every edge to beat the system Or maybe in the end, it's nothing more than sheer hubris on the part of trainer and owners and jockey that they thought that the Equine "Booster Rocket' can fire on automatic at any time in any environment, on any track unde any conditions. Probably a combination of all these and more. I'll close by saying that if the industry has any hope of surviving in any fashion, other than a few fat cat owner and breeders they need to do the following: * Universally impose a Ban on all drugs and steroids beginning in 2009, * Dedicate more $ to testing for illegal substances and beef up resources (look at Olympic atheletes they regularly beat the toughest testing in the world), * Identify a few true champions of the sport who embrace developing their horses for racing as opposed to racing as a warmup for the B-Shed. Now that is probably pollyhanna on my part but if we want any kind of longevity, new legions of fans and above all stars to root for, it will have to be done. Otherwise the only fans left in 20 + years will be those folks living in assisted living facilities or worse yet nursing homes playing the equines via TVG...Oh perish the thought.
W,C. More than 1 year ago
Steve, At this point I think it's absolutely essential that DRF start publishing the track variant that Beyer used for every race in Simulcast Daily where it gives the winners and winning Beyer figures. There are simply FAR TOO MANY RACES where figure makers have to make a subjective decision about whether or not a track changed speeds or a group of horses ran slower/faster than seemed likely based on their PPs. IMO, the biggest problem is that pace often effects final time, but many figure makers are not sufficiently sensitive to that fact or don't quite grasp all the pace relationships because the are so complex. In any event, lowering DTara's figure was another of an endless list suspect decisions that may have cost some people money. It is quite possible he legitmately ran a much faster figure in the Barbaro (perhaps because of the soft but not extremely slow pace). However, the impact the pace had (if any) should be up to the handicapper to decide, not the figure maker who might simply assume the track changed speeds. A notation somewhere in the DRF that a race was broken out from the day or providing the actual variants in S. Daily, would solve the problem and not force people to check variants for races around the country themselves. Another obvious case is the recent Met Mile and the very fast pace cut by Commentator. That race highlights another potential problem for handicappers. The race was speeded up to a logical figure, but IMHO it is obvious the very fast pace negatively impacted a few of the horses. I feel sorry for the poor trip handicapper that thinks Commentator actually ran a 109 off a very fast pace and assumes he's a lot better than his figure.
allemeuse More than 1 year ago
Big B's problem could have been as simple as getting his tongue over the bit...
Dan Baedeker More than 1 year ago
Thank you, tom_atwater. So that means Dennis of Cork dropped 4 points from his Beyer high, and Macho Again dropped much more from his Beyer high of 99 in the Derby Trial. Da' Tara improved 10 points from his Derby Trial fifth {by 5 lengths)to Macho Again. Guess Zito just knows how to make them run faster in Ozone Park.
pmack More than 1 year ago
Any idea of what 5/6 would have payed if big brown had won?
dud dew More than 1 year ago
I'll stick with the crowd that sees enough ordinary puzzle pieces to resist the call of "something horrible happened." And I'll add my support that there's more to the Winstrol piece than we're being told, Larry Bramlage's predictable reply notwithstanding. And published reports say Kent was given no specific instructions about strategy. Nice to hear critiques of ride from folks who've never been on a horse, let alone a racing thoroughbred in a hectic and pressure-packed TC-on-the-line Belmont. There was a helluva lot goin' on as they broke and assayed the first quarter-mile. Thanks for the apt observations about BB's pre-race demeanor, and his less-than-impressive work according to the trainer- witness. More pieces to buttress the notion there was nothing utterly mysterious about this outcome, any more than there was about War Pass's Tampa one. Young, lightly-raced, questionably medicated and trained horses with scant evidence of their true quality are not, by rational process, great mysteries when they throw a clunker in an otherwise very nice, but oh so shallow, body of work.
david_dc More than 1 year ago
BB was not himself-- we can all agree on that. However, the cause of that performance is really unknowable, short of a bleed. Was it the heat, track, trip (doubt it), MISSING MEDS, immaturity, stress, refusal to perform? Who really knows. However, should I be concerned about my bet: $2 tris all-1-all and all-all-1. Did BB have any shot at third? I didnt look that way at the final turn, but query whether I deserved a chance to win my second tri with BB finishing third. Honestly, I doubt here gets fourth, let alone third, but did i deserve at least a chance? This a tough call for me. If the horse was hurt, no problem. But, Ken eased him to save face, and nothing else, it would seem. Agree?
Dick W More than 1 year ago
Just a couple of comments from me. First of all, my prognostications stink ! As for Big Browns performance (or rather lack thereof) I agree with the folks who are suggesting that it is probably not any one thing, but a combination of things (heat, surface, early trouble in the race, ride, training regimen - and yes, Don Reed, even the consequences of hubris - you picked the perfect word to describe the human connections of B B). I do not think the entire matter can be blamed on Kent D. And I don't think it was the distance of the race. B B would not have won the race that day even if it had been a mile. I'm wondering if Da Tara is going to be another Sarava who after winning the Belmont at 70 to 1 never won another race. We will see. I was also extremely surprised (as Unitas mentioned) that Guadalcanal went off at 25 to 1. My only explanation is that perhaps a lot of folks (non horseplayers) saw that 50 to 1 morning line and decided they wanted to bet their $2 on the longest shot in the field. Not only did he end up not being the longest shot, but 3 horses had longer odds than he - go figure.