10/13/2008 11:00PM

Big Brown retired with foot injury

Barbara D. Livingston
Big Brown tore off a chunk of the inside quarter of his right front foot while working six furlongs on Monday morning.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – The dream match-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic between Big Brown and Curlin is off after Big Brown, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, sustained a foot injury Monday morning at Aqueduct that forced his retirement from racing.

Plagued by foot problems ever since winning his debut last fall, Big Brown tore off a significant chunk of his right front foot during a morning workout over Aqueduct’s turf course. Big Brown, working without front shoes, drilled six furlongs in 1:12.89 in company with defending Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Kip Deville.

The injury to Big Brown goes down to the bulb of his heel, and would take 60 to 90 days to heal, foot specialists told co-owner Michael Iavarone. With less than two weeks to the Classic, there was obviously insufficient time for that healing to take place, Iavarone said.

“I’m sick, I want to throw up right now,” Iavarone said in a phone interview a few hours after watching the work and seeing the injury. “It’s emotionally painful more than it is anything else. When you begin to look at it selfishly, it’s a terrible thing. When you look at it as a realistic person, you’re okay with it. He’s going to retire happy and sound and he’s going to go on and have a good life.”

Big Brown’s retirement means the highly anticipated match-up between Big Brown and reigning Horse of the Year Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25 will not take place. About seven hours after Big Brown was retired, Curlin worked five furlongs in 59.11 seconds over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface. His connections had until Tuesday morning to decide whether to pre-enter Curlin in the Classic. Jess Jackson, the majority owner of Curlin, was scheduled to hold a press conference at 1 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday to announce his decision.

Upon learning of Big Brown’s retirement, Jackson issued a statement that read: “My family and I are saddened to learn of Big Brown’s career-ending injury during his morning workout. I have always said what an incredible horse Big Brown is and that the bay colt brought energy and excitement to our industry, especially during his run at the Triple Crown.

“I am equally disappointed that Big Brown and Curlin will never compete against each other,” Jackson added. “It was a dream of mine and thousands of other fans of the sport. Now, we all join together in wishing Big Brown a speedy recovery.”

Breeders’ Cup officials will likely be on pins and needles awaiting Jackson’s decision on Curlin. Monday, Breeders’ Cup president Greg Avioli tried to put a positive spin on the defection of Big Brown.

“Our hearts go out to IEAH and Big Brown’s connections,” Avioli said. “We’re obviously disappointed that he won’t be able to participate next week; however, the Breeders’ Cup continues to have $24.5 million in purses, and from everything we’ve seen to date we’ll have very full fields with many of the top racehorses in the world. We still expect to have a terrific event.”

Avioli said Big Brown’s defection “has the potential to add horses to the Classic who otherwise might not have come.” Pre-entries for all 14 Breeders’ Cup races were due on Tuesday and will be announced Thursday.

Monday was to have been Big Brown’s final major workout before the Breeders’ Cup. Around 9 a.m., he entered the Aqueduct turf course along with Kip Deville and Salute the Count, who was working toward a start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. After Salute the Count, working by himself, finished his six-furlong breeze in 1:13.25, Big Brown and Kip Deville broke into a gallop to get their work started. The two had to breeze more than a dozen feet off the rail as traffic cones were up to protect the inside part of the course.

Big Brown, under Michelle Nevin, was on the inside of Kip Deville, under jockey Cornelio Velasquez. A bit on the eager side, Big Brown broke off about a neck to a half-length in front of Kip Deville. Big Brown went in fractions of 12.51 seconds for the opening furlong, and 23.98 for the opening quarter. The two were basically stride for stride through three furlongs in 35.67 seconds, a half-mile in 48.74 and five furlongs in 1:00.77. Big Brown galloped out seven furlongs in 1:28.90 and a mile in 1:43.74 and could not be pulled up as he approached the far turn again.

Iavarone, his wife, and two daughters watched the work along with co-owner Paul Pompa Jr., bloodstock agent Nick Sallusto, and trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. Their initial pleasure with the breeze faded to pained expressions when Big Brown came off the track. Dutrow was first to notice there was a problem. Iavarone said he was unaware anything was wrong until he saw Dutrow’s face back at the barn.

“He said, ‘We’re in big trouble with Big Brown,’ ” Iavarone said.

Initially, Big Brown was walking fine, but after being bathed, he began to favor his right foot. At one point while walking the shed row, Big Brown had to be urged to continue walking. Blacksmith Alex Leaf looked at the foot and told Iavarone “any chance of making the Breeders’ Cup was completely lost,” Iavarone said.

About an hour later, after speaking with noted equine hoof specialist Ian McKinlay, who had not seen the injury, Iavarone announced Big Brown’s retirement.

“As much as it rips right at the gut of us, we have to do it,” Iavarone said.

Iavarone’s IEAH Stable purchased 75 percent of Big Brown from Pompa after the colt won his debut by 11 1/4 lengths at Saratoga on Sept. 1, 2007. Shortly thereafter, Big Brown’s foot problems began as he suffered wall separations on both of his front feet – one last fall that forced him to miss the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and one during the winter that delayed his 3-year-old debut until March.

Big Brown won his first start at 3 in an off-the-turf allowance race at Gulfstream Park, then turned heads with an electrifying five-length victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby from post 12. He won the Kentucky Derby from post 20, the first horse do that since the advent of the starting gate. Clyde Van Dusen won from post 20 when there was a walk-up start. Big Brown was also the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby in his fourth career start since the filly Regret did it in 1915.

After a smashing victory in the Preakness Stakes, Big Brown came to the Belmont Stakes with a chance to become the sport’s first Triple Crown winner in 30 years. Two weeks before the Belmont, however, Big Brown sustained a quarter crack to his left front foot. His connections downplayed the significance of that injury leading up to the race and again after Big Brown was pulled up by jockey Kent Desormeaux with a quarter-mile remaining in the Belmont.

Though many speculated he would be retired following the Belmont debacle, Big Brown returned to the races, winning the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth and then the Monmouth Stakes, a $500,000 turf race written for him by Monmouth Park.

Big Brown retires with 7 wins from 8 starts and earnings of $3,614,500. The horse will stand at stud at Robert Clay’s Three Chimneys Farm beginning next spring.

“We did good,” Dutrow said, summing up Big Brown’s career. “I’m sure Iavarone’s looking for another one. As long as they get to leave our barn the right way, I’m okay with it. The horse is not missing out on anything; we’re missing out on the race. Brown will be able to live a real good life, so it’s all good.”

Without Big Brown to run in the Classic, Dutrow will pin his BC hopes on Kip Deville, who will seek to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile for a second straight year.

“Kip will show up there for us,” Dutrow said. “We’ll still have fun.”