06/09/2008 12:00AM

Big Brown last in stunning finale

Tod Marks
Da' Tara, the longest shot in the field at 38-1, ran home 5 1/4 lengths best after leading from start to finish.

ELMONT, N.Y. - A crowd of 94,476 came to Belmont Park on Saturday to see a Triple Crown coronation in the 140th Belmont Stakes, but all Big Brown left them with was a frown.

In a result that was simply startling, Big Brown, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes who was unbeaten in five previous starts, faded after a mile, was eased through the stretch by jockey Kent Desormeaux, and finished last of nine as the 1-4 favorite.

As most eyes focused on Big Brown, Da' Tara, the longest shot in the field at 38-1, scampered home 5 1/4 lengths best after leading from start to finish. Denis of Cork, who was third in the Derby, rallied to finish second, 2 3/4 lengths in front of Anak Nakal and Ready's Echo, who finished in a dead heat for third.

Macho Again was fifth and was followed, in order, by Tale of Ekati, Guadalcanal, Icabad Crane, and Big Brown.

Da' Tara ($79) completed 1 1/2 miles, one lap of the main track at Belmont Park, in 2:29.65 on a track rated fast. He set quarter-mile fractions of 23.82 seconds, 48.30, 1:12.90, 1:37.96, and 2:03.21. Da' Tara, a son of Tiznow, earned $600,000 from a gross purse of $1 million for his owner, Robert La Penta.

Da' Tara's trainer, Nick Zito, stopped a Triple Crown bid for the second time in four years. In 2004, Zito send out another longshot, Birdstone, to stun the previously unbeaten Smarty Jones.

Alan Garcia rode Da' Tara, earning his first victory in a Triple Crown race.

Da' Tara had finished second in the Barbaro Stakes at Pimlico in his previous start three weeks earlier. The Belmont was only his second victory in eight starts. He defeated maidens at Gulfstream Park in January.

Big Brown was attempting to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, and the first in 30 years. The current drought of Triple Crown winners is the longest since Sir Barton won the Triple Crown for the first time in 1919. Big Brown had won his first five starts by a combined margin of 39 lengths, including runaway victories in both the Derby and Preakness.

But instead of joining Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed as winners of the Triple Crown, Big Brown is now added to a list that comprises Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, and Smarty Jones. All won the Derby and Preakness since Affirmed in 1978, but failed in the Belmont.

Desormeaux said he had no idea why Big Brown ran so poorly. Big Brown was a little rank heading into the first turn after starting from the rail, but then was guided into the three path around the first turn by Desormeaux. From that point until the far turn, Big Brown was third, in a perfect stalking position.

But as the field went around the far turn, Desormeaux was asking Big Brown to advance, and he got no response. By the time the horses reached the top of the stretch, Desormeaux decided to ease Big Brown.

"I wasn't going to be fifth," he said, referring to the worst placing a horse can have and still receive a paycheck in the Belmont. "This is the best horse I ever rode. I took care of him."

Richard Dutrow Jr., Big Brown's trainer, quickly followed Big Brown back to the test barn and did not immediately offer comment.

Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said Big Brown "looked fine" after the race.

"His feet looked okay," Bramlage said. "He was not lame."

Big Brown had a quarter crack in his left front foot patched on Friday morning by Ian McKinlay, a noted foot specialist. Dutrow, while walking over with Big Brown before the race, said the foot was "a non-issue."

Big Brown also has legally been injected with steroids in the past, but, according to Dutrow, he had not had his monthly dose since mid-April, before the Triple Crown began.

Bramlage doubted that Big Brown was affected by not using steroids.

"It's not that kind of situation," Bramlage said. "Anabolic steroids keep them eating and happy and aggressive, which he showed all week long."

It was a hot, humid afternoon at Belmont Park, with the temperature reaching 93 degrees. Big Brown, however, did not appear to be suffering from heat exhaustion after the race.

A field of nine went to the post after the scratch Saturday morning of Casino Drive, the Japanese invader who won the Peter Pan Stakes four weeks earlier. Nobutaka Tada, the racing manager for Casino Drive, said Casino Drive was still favoring his left rear foot because of a bruise, a problem he first acknowledged on Friday.

The Belmont capped an emotionally draining 2008 Triple Crown. It began with the Derby, in which the filly Eight Belles suffered catastrophic fractures to her front legs and was euthanized shortly after her runner-up finish to Bg Brown. There was further controversy in recent weeks over the legal use of steroids by Big Brown, and the past financial improprieties of Michael Iavarone, the co-president of the IEAH Stable syndicate that co-owns Big Brown.

But through it all, Big Brown seemed oblivious to the controversy surrounding him. He was sent off as the heavy favorite on Saturday, the crowd ready to let loose after being teased by Triple Crown bids on so many prior occasions over the past three decades. But instead, the crowd watched the stretch run in silence, then largely filed out, stunned.

* Saturday's pick six went unhit, and there will be a $1,186,625 carryover when racing resumes at Belmont on Wednesday.