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Dutrow questions Desormeaux's ride
OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. was still searching for answers Monday morning as to what went wrong with Big Brown, who on Saturday became the first horse attempting to sweep the Triple Crown to finish last in the Belmont Stakes.
Still unable to find anything physically wrong with Big Brown - who was vanned to Dutrow's Aqueduct barn from Belmont Park late Monday morning - Dutrow turned his attention to jockey Kent Desormeaux and the ride he gave Big Brown, and why he felt the need to pull the horse up with a quarter-mile remaining in the race won by 38-1 shot Da' Tara.
"I got people calling me from all over the world telling me I ran a sore horse in the race, the jock had to pull him up," Dutrow said as he stood in his Aqueduct barn's shed row waiting for Big Brown's van. "I don't know why he had to do that. If he felt the horse was sore, yeah, but the horse was fighting him the whole way through the lane and he was fighting the horse the whole way up till the lane. I just don't get the whole thing."
Dutrow said Big Brown showed no signs of being sore and that the quarter crack on the colt's left front foot was fine. Majority owner Michael Iavarone on Sunday said that an endoscopic examination of Big Brown's throat showed no signs of blood or mucus. He theorized that Big Brown might not have cared for the loose, deep track on the hot, sweltering afternoon. Iavarone also said Big Brown had a loose left hind shoe after the race.
Dutrow, meanwhile, saw no tangible excuse for the performance, which was Big Brown's first loss in six career starts. He was coming off scintillating victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
"It happened in the wrong race," Dutrow said. "It was a huge race, biggest race I've ever been in. I feel like a loser right now and I don't know why. Usually when I get beat I can handle it the right way, and I've handled this the right way, but I just feel like something's not right. I know it's not the combination that our stable has with the horse, me, [exercise rider] Michelle [Nevin], the groom. I know he went into this race unbelievable, so the rest Kent's got to answer."
Dutrow said the plan for the Belmont was to go directly to the front, as Big Brown did winning the Florida Derby. After an eighth of a mile, Big Brown was third as Da' Tara went to the lead under Alan Garcia. Desormeaux attempted to get Big Brown off the rail, but first found Macho Again in his path, then Tale of Ekati and Anak Nakal.
Entering the first turn, Desormeaux took a hard hold of Big Brown and yanked him to the three-path, bumping with Anak Nakal before finding his running path outside of Tale of Ekati while Da' Tara opened up a three-length lead around the clubhouse turn.
"Getting the horse from the gate to the first turn like that is not the way to play the game," Dutrow said. "A lot of people say that it really confuses the horse. I'm sure he didn't have [any] idea what the hell was going on going into the first turn the way [Desormeaux] was switching him all over the damn track. I don't know what he was doing. Did he tell you what he was doing?"
On Monday, Desormeaux, who was running a road race in Manhattan despite record heat, said that his plan was go to the lead, but that Big Brown slipped coming out of the gate and "I was immediately pinched back a length."
At that point, Desormeaux said, he knew Da' Tara was the horse to beat because he got the lead, and Desormeaux wanted to keep that horse honest.
"I wasn't able to keep him honest," Desormeaux said.
Desormeaux said that Big Brown was "very excitable the first quarter. I didn't get my cozy spot till a quarter-mile" into the race.
"Certainly he was aggressive the first quarter-mile," Desormeaux added, "but unlike the Preakness when he was attentive to my needs, he was not. Maybe three weeks off was too much time."
Big Brown raced in third position down the backside and was wide. At the five-eighths pole, Desormeaux began to ask Big Brown for run, but the colt was not responsive.
Desormeaux said that he pulled Big Brown up only after all the other horses passed him. He said he did not feel the need to persevere on the horse, because he wasn't going to finish anywhere but last.
"For every superfecta player, for every show-bet player, they need to rest assured that the horse quit a quarter of a mile before I did," said Desormeaux, who added that he felt like he was taking care of the horse.
Desormeaux said he made a similar move on J Be K when that horse finished eighth in the Louisiana Derby, a two-turn route race, after it became obvious he was not going to finish in the money. J Be K has since come back to win two graded sprint stakes, including Saturday's Woody Stephens, both under Garrett Gomez.
As of Monday, Dutrow and Desormeaux had not spoken. Dutrow was upset that Desormeaux didn't come by the barn after the race to check on the horse, saying, "a lot of people came back to the barn - a lot of people - Desormeaux wasn't one of them."
"With all due respect to Mr. Dutrow, my wife and I spoke with an IEAH partner [Nick Sallusto] and I was assured the horse was all right," Desormeaux said. "I was in the jocks' room watching Mr. Dutrow at the barn [on TV], and in my observation he needed some quiet time, some time to think."
Desormeaux spoke by phone Sunday morning with Iavarone and got the impression "they were thrilled with my actions," Desormeaux said.
On Monday, Iavarone said he was not pointing fingers at Desormeaux for Big Brown's defeat. "Let's not call it textbook," Iavarone said when asked what he thought about the ride, "but he had a target on his back. I'm not going to sit out here and say he's the reason that he got beat."
Both Dutrow and Iavarone said Monday that plans call for Big Brown to run again unless the horse does show signs of a physical problem. He will be pointed to the Travers on Aug.o23 at Saratoga and then the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.
Though the Triple Crown run is over, Dutrow said he wants to keep going with Big Brown.
"I don't want it to be over," Dutrow said. "I want to keep going with him. I want him to run big next time and run big after that, and then it can be over."
If he runs in the Travers, Big Brown would likely get a rematch with Da' Tara, who on Monday was vanned from Belmont to Nick Zito's Saratoga stable along with the Zito-trained Anak Nakal, who dead-heated for third with Ready's Echo. Zito, who won his second Belmont in four years, said that both Da' Tara and Anak Nakal would be pointed to the Travers, with Da' Tara possibly running in the Jim Dandy on July 26 beforehand.
Da' Tara's owner, Robert LaPenta, is also the owner of War Pass, the Zito-trained 2-year-old champion of 2007 who was sidelined by injury before the Kentucky Derby.
Zito said he was able to enjoy this Belmont victory more than Birdstone's in 2004, when he actually apologized to the connections of Smarty Jones for ending that colt's Triple Crown bid.
"I was elated," Zito said. "I was jumping up and down because Big Brown wasn't Big Brown. He wasn't making his move, and I said, 'He's not making his move and we're coasting pretty good.' I started getting real excited - I figured those other guys behind him aren't Big Brown."
Da' Tara earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure in the Belmont, the lowest in the race since Beyer figures were first published in 1990.
Belmont runner-up Denis of Cork and fifth-place finisher Macho Again returned to Churchill Downs on Monday. Trainer David Carroll said he is pointing Denis of Cork to the Travers, with a start in either the Jim Dandy or Haskell Invitational on Aug. 3. Dallas Stewart, trainer of Macho Again, said the Jim Dandy or West Virginia Derby are his colt's options.
Tale of Ekati, who finished sixth in the Belmont, came out of the race with a 3- to 3 1/2-inch gash in his right hind foot, said Robin Smullen, assistant to trainer Barclay Tagg. She believes it was caused by Big Brown when he crossed over entering the first turn.
Smullen said she felt Tale of Ekati could still make a race like the Jim Dandy.
Todd Pletcher, trainer of Ready's Echo, who dead-heated for third, said the horse will eventually be tried on the turf, possibly as early as the $750,000 Virginia Derby on July 19 at Colonial Downs.
Casino Drive, who was scratched from the Belmont due to a bruised foot, was scheduled to be flown back to Japan on Tuesday.
- additional reporting by Jay Privman