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Readers sound off on Big Brown
No shame in defeat after two Crown jewels
I have already seen a lot of Big Brown-trashing on various websites and find myself wanting to respond. The people who are doing this have no idea what they are talking about, and I doubt if any of them appreciate what he already accomplished before last Saturday's Belmont Stakes ("Big Brown is last in stunning finale," June 9).
Here is a horse who won his maiden special weight debut, won his first attempt at a first-level allowance, and then rattled off three consecutive Grade 1 victories - and all of this with bad feet. He won these races by a total of more than 27 lengths and from some post positions that some experts said made winning impossible.
While I am disappointed that I didn't get to see a Triple Crown winner crowned, I am not ashamed to praise this horse for the feats he did accomplish. He gained my admiration and my love with each stride on the track, and while he didn't quite get the job done last Saturday, he did more than any horse I've ever seen do in the first five races of their lives.
I am thankful that jockey Kent Desormeaux took care of him that day, because, as disappointed as I am in his not winning the race, I am extremely grateful that he is okay. Whatever happened, I don't know, but I do know that he will live to see another day, unlike so many who didn't get that chance.
Thank you, Kent, for taking care of him and thank you, Rick Dutrow, for allowing me to see a true athlete achieve what they said couldn't be done.
Debbie Pofelski - Rolling Meadows, Ill.
A case of pilot error
Following the Belmont, we read and heard much about steroids, trainers running horses with injuries, and various other complaints. But, in my opinion, what we saw was the mental breakdown of a human athlete. In fact, one of the greatest jockeys had a complete mental collapse. In layman's terms, Kent Desormeaux choked and ultimately, selfishly, quit.
Now, there is nothing wrong with choking. We all, including myself, have felt pressure and ultimately choked. Logically we all have the same emotions, so what's the big problem with admitting it?
I could make a strong case that an awful ride by Desormeaux ultimately expended Big Brown's energy. But I would rather not question split-second decisions made atop large, speeding animals (while followed by an ambulance). But, I will question quitting. Aren't we taught that champions don't quit? Desormeaux said after the race, "I wasn't going to be fifth" ("Big Brown is last in stunning finale," June 9).
My issue is that Desormeaux didn't pull up for Big Brown's health, he quit for Kent Desormeaux. Big Brown finishes fifth and the jockey's ride comes under scrutiny just as it was on on Real Quiet. By pulling up, the headlines would be that Desormeaux protected Big Brown. But at the same time, his action caused questions about why a horse was being run injured, given steroids, and other ugly issues the trainer and the industry will now have to answer.
These are valid questions, but they had nothing to do with reality of this year's Belmont Stakes. What we should have seen and heard was the truth: Desormeaux dismounting Big Brown and answering the question "Kent, what happened?" with the simple reply "I choked."
Ty Alexander - Del Mar, Calif.
Praise, not scorn, in order
I would like to give Kent Desormeaux a sincere thank you for pulling up Big Brown in the Belmont. He proved what a class act he is by doing the right thing. It was plain to any experienced horseperson that something was wrong, as Desormeaux realized.
The rider sure did me proud by doing the right thing, I know there are going to be a lot of people saying he hurt the sport, but not in my book. I have seen a few headlines that seem to be less than sympathetic to the situation, such as an AP story posted on msnbc.com with the headline "Desormeaux flops again in second bid for Crown." Those people have it dead wrong. A huge "atta boy" to Kent for his actions last Saturday.
Carolyn Beverly Kenney - Benson, N.C.
A lapse in riding judgment
I have watched and bet on races for the last 20 years, and Kent Desormeaux's ride on Big Brown in the Belmont Stakes was the worst ride I have ever seen in a big race. A horse who can do 45 for the half was being wrangled back and then taken six wide. What we saw was a jockey trying to get cute.
I used to stick up for Desormeaux, but what we saw last Saturday was a major collapse under pressure. You can't choke a speed horse - look back at Big Brown's debut. Let Da' Tara and Tale of Ekati outrun you early? You have to be kidding me. Da' Tara had gotten dusted by Big Brown in the Florida Derby.
So Big Brown is fine. Let's find a new jockey, please.
Herb Mirzaie - Forest Hill, Md.
Bad character recalled
Many years ago around here there was a guy called The Boston Strangler. I would like to nominate Kent Desormeaux for the title of The Belmont Strangler.
Jim Walsh - North Andover, Mass.
Chemicals pushed limits
I was not surprised that Big Brown lost the Belmont Stakes. Big Brown is a magnificent muscular specimen thanks to being pumped up with steroids during his tenure with trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. I'm sure Big Brown could become the leading sprinter-miler in the nation if pointed in that direction, and maybe even get 1 1/8 miles occasionally, but a true router he ain't, and all the steroids in the world will not really change that.
Continuous use of steroids is extremely detrimental to the health of humans, and I'm sure this also applies to horses. It's a sad state of affairs when trainers - with or without the owner's approval - are using all sorts of drugs to try to force a horse's performance beyond his natural capacity.
The most recent winners of the Triple Crown's first two jewels were beaten late in the Belmont. Big Brown was fading and being passed by other horses after about a mile. Hats off to Kent Desormeaux, who realized he had no more horse and that it would be in the best interest of the horse to ease him up.
The horse was great, he gave all he could. The jockey was great, he knew when to stop so that no harm would come to the horse. The trainer? Enough said.
Marilyn Keller - South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
The replay of this year's Belmont Stakes clearly shows that all the other horses were starting to pass Big Brown coming into the stretch turn.
As Kent Desormeaux said, the horse quit before he did. The horse was running with a quarter crack, so why keep pushing him when he was losing the race? Desormeaux did right to ease him up out of the race. Concern for the horse was, and should be, primary.
Penny Spurgin - Reno, Nev.
Rival contributed to loss
Barring a medical reason for Big Brown's disappointing performance, the would-be Triple Crown winner's fate was sealed before the clubhouse turn of the 1 1/2-mile event because of the poor judgment on the part of Kent Desormeaux and the deviousness of Eibar Coa aboard Tale of Ekati.
The Belmont Park strip was severely biased in favor of runners traveling on the inside. While it worked in the Preakness, the choke-hold Desormeaux employed to stop Big Brown in his tracks and angle him outside was the wrong choice. On the backstretch, he was hung out to dry when Coa abandoned any attempt to win the race and instead opted to beat Big Brown.
Coa and Tale of Ekati were perfectly positioned, tracking Da' Tara's easy fractions from second. Tale of Ekati should have been in perfect position to take first run on the longshot. It's pretty evident from head-on replays of the backstretch that Coa had no interest in keeping an eye on Da' Tara. He was more concerned with fanning Big Brown six or seven paths wide on the worst part of the racetrack. Not long after Big Brown came up empty on the turn, Tale of Ekati also began to back up and checked in sixth. Meanwhile, Da' Tara was allowed to gallop on unopposed and rode the golden rail right into the winner's circle.
Many jockey advocates would chalk Coa's actions up to "race-riding." The salient point is that he failed to give Tale of Ekati the best possible chance to win. Desormeaux, meanwhile, should pay more attention to the first half of a card - it may help him if he ever gets a third chance for a historic score.
Adam Hickman - Toronto
Sport at crossroads
I am a devoted fan and horseplayer, new to racing six years ago. Last Saturday, despite all the "no idea" blather from trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., I'm certain I saw someone shamefully going through the motions in the Belmont.
Even before the race, I had wondered if, had Big Brown won, there would be an asterisk in the history books, as some would do with the baseball records of confirmed dopers.
The revelation that Big Brown had been receiving steroids - information to which handicappers had every right weeks earlier as food for thought and fodder for discussion - makes it clear that horse racing has taken on the clear-cut quality of chemical warfare.
I love racing and won't quit. I'll continue to adjust to the vagaries of the Thoroughbred breed moving to synthetic surfaces and hope the industry addresses the larger, less-public problem of doping.
My heart still aches for Smarty Jones and cheers for Afleet Alex, and not because of local connections or admiration for the little girl from my area selling lemonade to fight cancer, but because they gave us all an chance to see honest champions running their honest best. Last Saturday, I had the feeling a junkie had broken into my car to steal change and am appalled it was allowed to happen.
It has to be one or the other, not both, and settled quickly. What will it be, horse racing or chemical warfare?
Zeke Peterhoff - Philadelphia
Rooting was made tough
As one of the more than 94,000 people at Belmont Park on June 7, I found myself in the sad and curious position of hoping for exactly the outcome we saw: Big Brown unhurt but trailing the field in the Belmont Stakes.
Having been at Belmont as a very young man to witness both Affirmed and Seattle Slew win the Triple Crown and having attended nearly every Belmont since, I, like so many others, have yearned for a legitimate Triple Crown winner. As a racehorse owner and breeder I know our industry sorely needs the positive attention the next Triple Crown winner will bring, but I want it to be a horse with the race record and human connections that merit being forever mentioned alongside the exalted names on that select list.
Big Brown came into the Belmont with an accomplished but very limited race record against what will surely go down as one of the weakest 3-year-old crops in decades. More important, his principal owner and trainer sadly bring to the table exactly the kind of highly questionable reputations that have sullied our sport's image in the public eye for far too long. As Andrew Beyer stated in his June 6 column, "Lot's of attention - not all of it good," "Horse racing has always attracted its share of rogues and charlatans, but few have been as brazen as [Michael] Iavarone, co-CEO of IEAH Stable." Beyer explained that Iavarone presented himself as an investment banker who had made a fortune on Wall Street when in fact he was a stockbroker at firms peddling penny stocks, one who was fined and suspended for securities offenses. Meanwhile, trainer Rick Dutrow's record includes multiple drug-related violations and suspensions.
This is not to say that everyone connected with the horse were hard to cheer for. It's easy to like jockey Kent Desormeaux and the people at Three Chimneys Farm, who will stand the horse at the conclusion of his racing career, but the records of both majority owner and trainer speak loudly for themselves.
The racing gods (and the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont Stakes) have a strange and wonderful history of denying Thoroughbred Racing's ultimate prize to the unworthy. When the next Triple Crown winner does come along I plan to again be at Belmont Park, hopefully able to cheer without reservation for a true champion in every respect of the word.
H. Robb Levinsky - Kenwood Racing, LLC
I was at Belmont Park last Saturday hoping to see a Triple Crown won, and unfortunately Big Brown had an off day. Sometimes even great horses throw in clunkers. It's a part of the game. For Richard Dutrow Jr. to suggest that Kent Desormeaux's ride resulted in Big Brown's loss is despicable.
It was apparent to everyone that Big Brown was not going to run his race that day. As Desormeaux said, the horse was empty and going to run last, so he pulled him up. I didn't see anything wrong with what Desormeaux did, especially in light of all of the recent scrutiny that horse racing has encountered with the death of Eight Belles on Kentucky Derby Day. Desormeaux knew that Big Brown wasn't himself, and he erred on the side of caution. Dutrow and Big Brown's owners should be thanking him, not disparaging him, for his actions that day.
I think Dutrow deserves to have his feet put to the fire for his behavior before the race and for the comments he made afterward.
John Greco - Howard Beach, N.Y.
Signs of withdrawal
I guess steroids are completely ineffectual. "Steroids can't help you hit a baseball," said Barry Bonds. "I don't know what it does. I just like using it." said Rick Dutrow, quoted in Andrew Beyer's June 6 column, "Lots of attention - not all of it good." "All it does is make them eat. Taking a horse off steroids would have no effect on performance," was the refrain of most veterinarians interviewed in the aftermath of Big Brown's Belmont debacle.
I'm going to give the vets a pass. I just think they're preoccupied with the gross aspects of equine health and oblivious to the subtle workings of an organic system. Bonds and Dutrow, on the other hand, were obviously being disingenuous.
We can agree there was no overt physical reason for Big Brown's nonperformance. He walked fine. It wasn't the quarter crack. He scoped clean. He even looked good in the paddock and post parade, although somewhat strangely bone-dry despite the oppressive heat and humidity.
As for the ride, as unartful as it appeared, it's a chicken-and-egg debate. Big Brown didn't break well, and then he fought Kent Desormeaux. Where was that responsiveness, that kindness, that "mind" of Big Brown's that we came to admire as his greatest asset?
The fact is, this wasn't the same horse. He wasn't just tired, or undertrained, nor was it just a bad trip or a hot day. And it sure as heck wasn't a deep track. Those things could have gotten him beat, but they don't explain his non-effort.
What would explain it is withdrawal. He wasn't there mentally. His system, as evidenced by the lack of sweating was compromised.
I give Dutrow some credit for at least opening the conversation. The Belmont's winning trainer, Nick Zito, doesn't respect the betting public enough to answer the question of steroid use. But let's not let this conversation die here. Let's have a real conversation - one the other sports never had.
Kyle Newcomb - Delmar, N.Y.
Television picture fuzzy
I am dumbfounded by the network coverage of this year's Belmont. All the experts watched the same race I did (and multiple replays) and none mentioned Kent Desormeaux's bizarre ride. First, he almost ran up the rear end of the winner, and then, instead of settling his horse he jerked him straight into Anak Nakal, pushing him five wide on the first turn.
Are there rules for the Triple Crown I am not aware of, like "Any horse who won the first two legs has the right of way in the Belmont"?
This was without a doubt the worst coverage of a race I have ever seen. I think major network coverage of just the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup hurts racing's cause in the long run. It will continue to focus on any negative issue and blow it out of proportion, no matter how absurd the spin happens to be.
A trainer's use of legal steroids on a racehorse is a perfect example: It won't be long before some ignorant politician seeking news time will be proposing legislation to regulate every aspect of this wonderful sport.
Tom VanEman - Milford Center, Ohio
From the horse's mouth
I believe I know exactly what happened to Big Brown.
I believe he was making a statement to his trainer in horse language. He wanted to tell Rick Dutrow, "If you think it's so easy, you should run."
Frank Lewkowitz - Paradise Valley, Ariz.