by John Furgele
Simply, Big Brown is not a Superhorse. He was good, but not great, and yesterday’s performance was embarrassing for him, the jockey, and the trainer. Trainer Rick Dutrow dissed Smarty Jones, calling into question the horse, the jockey and the trainer. At least Smarty Jones tried in the Belmont, running to the end behind the surging Birdstone. Big Brown, you’re no Smarty Jones.
Most didn’t think Funny Cide was going to get the 1 1/2 miles in 2003 and with a fresh Empire Maker bred to go long and a sloppy track, few expected Funny Cide to win. But, he had the lead and was a game third. Big Brown, you’re no Funny Cide either.
I don’t want to hear about the distance and the three races in five weeks grind that is the Triple Crown. Plenty of horses have won two of the three races. Everybody focuses on those horses who win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, then lose the Belmont, but there have been several horses who ran the Derby and lost, then swept the Preakness and the Belmont. Afleet Alex did it in 2005 and Point Given dominated the Preakness and the Belmont after losing at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May in 2001. He also won the Travers that summer just to cap it off.
I am also selling that a Triple Crown will be great for horse racing and will revitalize interest in the “Sport of Kings.” I love horse racing, but a Triple Crown is not going revitalize anything. For a few days there would certainly be a buzz, but it would fade like everything fades. Horse Racing is actually pretty lucky to have what it has. They draw 140,000 plus to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, another 110,000 plus to the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore and anywhere from 40,000 to 120,000 to Elmont, New York for the Belmont. Throw in another 50,000 to 100,000 for the Breeder’s Cup races in late October and that’s four monster days for a sport that is in a so-called decline. The summer meet at Saratoga averages about 23,000 per day for 36 days which is far from shabby.
A Triple Crown winner of course would be nice for the sport, but it has to be a great horse, a superhorse, a horse for the ages, and to be frank, we haven’t had one since 1978. We were spoiled rotten in the 1970s as we saw three horses—Secretariat (1973); Seattle Slew (1977); Affirmed, (1978)—win all three races, but the drought that has followed is not as perplexing as it is made out to be. Once again, there is not much subjectivity in horse racing; whoever gets to the finish line first wins the race.
Yesterday, the class of the field was Da’ Tara, a little black colt who led the race from wire to wire. He wasn’t pressed and he set sensible and reasonable fractions; 23.85 for the 1/4; 48.60 for the 1/2; 1:12.90 for 3/4. Like the rest of the horses, he tired, covering the mile in 1:37 plus, the 1 1/4 in 2:03.91 and then hanging on with a 25 second final 400 yards. He tired, but the others tired more and he won by a healthy four plus lengths. Of course, no horse tired more than Big Brown, who despite having a chance for the Triple Crown will fall like a stone on the list of all-time three year old colts. Certainly Point Given has to be ranked higher. Ditto for Afleet Alex. These horses mastered the grind just fine, they just stumbled in the first race, not the last. Just because these horses came to the Belmont with no chance of winning that elusive Triple Crown doesn’t mean that there were not better horses than the stumbling Big Brown.
Perhaps I am being too harsh on Big Brown. Coming into the Belmont he was undefeated and had won his races in convincing fashion, but his meltdown was so bad, if he were a human, they’d say that he choked. His trainer, the outspoken Rick Dutrow did not do him any favors either. He talked the smack for all five weeks. He guaranteed a Triple Crown and he ripped other horses and trainers along the way. If his horse would have been nipped, or a solid third or even out of the money but trying and running hard, he might have received a pass. But, the horse was so bad, so downright awful, it can’t be dismissed so easily. To say that I’m down on Big Brown might be the understatement of the year.
In the end, Big Brown turned out to be a Big Clown