06/10/2008 11:00PM

Yes, Big Brown got bad ride


PHILADELPHIA - "Rider error.''

That was Tony Black's description of Big Brown's adventures in the Belmont Stakes and Kent Desormeaux's part in it.

Black has won more than 5,000 races. He is the all-time leading rider at Philadelphia Park. He is one of the great and fearless front-running riders in history.

"I think Kent Desormeaux definitely compromised this horse's chances from even competing well leaving the gate and into the first turn," Black said. "I've made those exact mistakes in other lesser races. . . . I believe he restrained the horse too much leaving the gate. . . . In the extreme effort in restraining the horse, he took more run out of him than he intended."

No two races are ever exactly the same. When circumstances change, tactics need to change.

Big Brown was clearly the lone speed. The colt had the rail. Was this all that complicated?

"I have a reputation of letting horses do what they want to do early," Black said. "I would have had to let Big Brown leave the gate running and relax him after we went an eighth of a mile or a quarter-mile. I have to believe he'd have probably been in front."

Desormeaux really only had one decision. If Alan Garcia, on Da' Tara, had come out of the gate whipping and driving, insistent on getting to the top, Desormeaux could have let him go.

Instead, rather than letting Big Brown get into his beautiful, rhythmic stride, Desormeaux took an immediate hard hold, fighting his horse, giving up position, ceding the front and looking for a way to get Big Brown outside. It was not pretty.

Desormeaux did not need to be aggressive. He just did not need to be so passive.

"I always say that it's not how fast you're running, it's how you're running fast,'' Black said. "If a horse has a rhythm to his stride and his breathing and he's pricking his ears and relaxing, he's going to continue to run fast no matter what the distance is.''

There was much talk about the "mystery'' of Big Brown's performance. Where was the mystery?

Everybody was grasping at the intangibles - three races in five weeks, quarter crack, lack of training, heat, detention barn, etc.

There could be something to any or all of that. But there is no way to quantify it.

The ride is tangible. It was brutal.

All the signs were there in the final days and then in the final moments before the race. From the moment Big Brown drew the rail, you could sense Desormeaux getting anxious. Then, Jeannine Edwards's ABC interview with the rider in the jocks' room was revealing.

"You become a tactician and you need to be that, quicker than you can imagine any computer ticking,'' Desormeaux said of the start. "A lot's going to happen in a hundred yards.''

"What do you expect to see?''

"Whether I'm going to take a pull or let him continue marching on.''

"What will dictate that?''

"What my peers do.''

Reacting, instead of acting.

There were no tactics. The rider took an immediate pull.

Fight a horse for nearly a quarter-mile, get that horse into a spot where the horse is uncomfortable, and is anybody all that surprised the horse is done 1,000 yards before the wire?

It happens in races all over the country every day.

The ride at the start was tentative, to be charitable. The ride at the end was bizarre.

The rider suggested he pulled the horse up to protect Big Brown. Others wonder if he wasn't protecting himself.

"He was getting beat and he couldn't stand it," Seattle Slew's trainer, Billy Turner, told Bill Nack for a Blood-Horse magazine article. "When I saw him pull up, I thought, 'Oh, no, he's broken down and the rider's saving him.' But then I saw him when he walked off and there was nothing wrong with the horse. The horse was happy. He would have beaten most of the horses in the Belmont. . . . The stewards have got to do something to prevent this from becoming a regular practice. They can't allow this kind of thing to go on."

Michael Iavarone, part of the ownership group, summed it up nicely after the race.

"Something clearly wasn't right,'' Iavarone said. "He scoped clean. There's nothing bothering him. He's walking sound. He's just angry.''

No wonder.

Just imagine this scenario. Desormeaux just sits atop Big Brown and lets him run away from the gate. Big Brown clears the field. Da' Tara, who got a sorry 99 Beyer for winning the race up top, instead chases and fades. The rest run just like they ran and make up zero ground.

Is it so implausible that a relaxed Big Brown goes wire to wire and wins by daylight?

Horses, even horses with the issues Big Brown brought with him into the race, often keep running and running when unchallenged on the lead.

Would Big Brown have won if he had been loose on the lead? We will never know.

But we do know it could not possibly have turned out any worse than it did.

The colt was attempting to become just the second unbeaten horse to win the Triple Crown and became the first to finish last while going for the Triple Crown. That is a rather wide variation.