Why did "Can't Miss" horse perform so poorly at Belmont?
Rick Dutrow, the trainer of Big Brown, the superstar colt that breezed to victory in this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness was drenched in sweat after the race. He was befuddled how his unbeatable horse literally quit on him in the biggest race of both of their lives.
"I feel like a loser," he told reporters. Dutrow was unhappy to say the least about the efforts of his jockey, Kent Desormeaux. Dutrow was puzzled why Desormeaux maneuvered the horse around so frequently in the early part of the race.
The Belmont Stakes is a mile-and-a-half long and with only nine entries, there was plenty of time and plenty of track left for moves to be made.
As a result, Big Brown, who was running third for a good part of the race and looked to be in position to make a stretch run was spent by the time he reached the top of the stretch. Desormeaux decided not to push the horse for no reason on a 95-degree day and pulled Big Brown up, galloping to a last-place finish.
The throngs who flocked to the track immediately began to think the worst. Television analysts began to guess as well.
Is he hurt? Was he kicked in traffic?
As it turns out, neither. The horse may have felt a twinge in the quarter-crack in his hoof and altered his gait which could have led Desormeaux to ease him up. It was discovered later that was not the case.
Big Brown did look out of sorts, though. It could have been a phantom pain, or he could have just been out of breath.
"He had no gas left in the tank," was all Desormeaux would tell us after the race.
The experienced horse players around him all blamed Dutrow for the horse's failure. Big Brown did not receive his monthly dosage of legal steroids in mid-May. Even the most peripheral horse player knows not to alter a horse's regimen during racing season, unless it is endangering the horse's health.
Owner Micheal Iavarone had his own take. It was the track.
"It was like a beach out there," he said. The track was very loose and the dirt deeper than Big Brown had ever run on. Iavarone pointed to the slower finishing times of the previous winners of the day, even the Belmont winner, Da' Tara—who wired the field, finishing at 2:29—a second or two off the average winning time.
Big Brown is healthy today and that is about the only positive to come out of the Belmont. The question of why Big Brown was in such a clunker on the biggest day of his life may never truly be answered.