It’s amazing that six weeks can go by so quickly, yet also seem like an eternity.
Was it just last month, or was it last year when we saw Big Brown bound past us on the Churchill Downs backstretch during a chilly morning in Louisville? Was it just a few weeks ago, or was it a couple of months ago that we witnessed a coronation off the Northern Parkway in Baltimore? We’re certain about June 7 on Long Island, witnessing the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in sticky, steamy Elmont, N.Y.
This year’s Triple Crown run had more twists than a New York pretzel, and was twice as salty.
When looking back over the ’08 run by Big Brown, here’s hoping the industry will have moved forward on a couple of horse health-related issues.
First, with the tragic breakdown of Eight Belles following her dazzling runner-up effort in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), industry leaders must not lose sight of the need to take steps to make our sport safer for its participants. Just as the breeding industry came together back in the spring of 2001 to unravel the mysteries of mare reproductive loss syndrome, the key is communication. We must share all information, good and bad, for the betterment of the sport. The newly formed Thoroughbred Safety Committee is a good start. So, too, are the conversations and research that must continue regarding synthetic track surfaces.
The issue of steroids in racehorses must be addressed, promptly, and on a national level. I can imagine few in the game who would like to see more trainers and owners interviewed on national television discussing the pros and cons of Winstrol.
Big Brown’s disappointing run in the Belmont, for the umpteenth time giving fans a handful of feathers instead of a Triple Crown winner, teaches us just how special it is to win the Triple Crown. We don’t want to hear any talk about changing the span between races. It’s supposed to be hard to win it.
While the five weeks puts three demanding races very close together, the three weeks between the Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont can slow to a crawl. As this season’s Belmont approached, and with Big Brown’s quarter crack getting better ratings than “American Idol,” one could almost watch the bloom come off the rose of Team Brown at Barn 2 at Belmont.
The finale was the colt’s five-furlong work June 3, a minute flat, followed by a six-furlong gallop out in 1:14 2⁄5. The drill left more than a few raised eyebrows. A 14-second eighth before the Belmont? Galloping out?
Secretariat wouldn’t have done that. Big Red worked a mile in 1:34 4⁄5, then blew out a half-mile the Wednesday before the Belmont in :46 3⁄5.<->Seattle Slew worked six furlongs in 1:11 3⁄5 the Tuesday before his Belmont, and blew out three furlongs in :35 4⁄5 the morning of the race.
Big Brown, in front of a curious crowd the morning of June 6, galloped slooowly around the Belmont Park oval and then headed back to the barn. It was at that point it became questionable as to how much juice was left in the lemon. We found out the next day.
A reflective Kent Desormeaux, who 10 years ago had come within the shadow of the wire of winning the Triple Crown with Real Quiet, addressed the media following Big Brown’s defeat.
“For him it was a slow pace,” he said. “When I got outside going into the first turn, I said, ‘That’s it; the race is over.’ ”
He, like the rest of us, was confident.
“Then, when I asked him to engage, I was done. I had no horse. Fortunately, there are no popped tires; he’s just out of gas.”
He then paid the Triple Crown phenomenon quite a compliment.
“The end result is I can’t fathom what kind of freaks those 11 Triple Crown winners were,” the Hall of Fame jockey said. “It’s unfathomable to me. I won the Derby with some pressure, I won the Preakness in an armchair ride, and for whatever reason he wasn’t resilient enough today. This is unknown to me because he’s supposed to be a mile-and-a-half-horse; he’s supposed to be a distance horse.
“With that being said, these occasions for me have only made me realize how awesome those horses were.”
That’s why we’ll be back next spring.