I am sticking both my blogs together this week in order to report and comment on something that I find rather bizarre. It concerns Big Brown. Remember when he was the talk of all racing from March to June, the sport’s next superstar who had performed deeds never before seen? Remember the hordes of media that congregated outside his barn the week before the Belmont Stakes, most of them convinced they were going to witness racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 30 years?
Well, when was the last time you saw Big Brown’s name anywhere of prominence? What in the world happened in such a short period of time? The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner has had two works in the past two weeks and they both have gone virtually unreported by the major online publications. The Daily Racing Form managed to get a small three-paragraph item of the second work on their website at 6:42 p.m. that evening. A check of several racing message boards and forums produced one minor mention of the second work and nothing of the first work. You would think both works would be a much-talked about subject. Now that Big Brown has turned in two solid five-furlong works – in 1:02 3/5 and 1:01 1/5 – it would only be natural to assume websites would be reporting them in as much detail as possible and people would be talking about them. But it’s as if they barely existed. As IEAH’s vice-president of investor relations Mike Sherack said to co-president Michael Iavarone, “It’s like this horse has fallen off the face of the Earth.”
So, what happened? Trainer Rick Dutrow isn’t talking much, and hasn’t acknowledged either work in any detail, providing a few mundane words at most, because he apparently is at odds with the media for constantly printing negative things about him. Iavarone has had to endure the backlash of all this, and also is keeping a low profile after many of his quotes were misinterpreted and printed out of context, not to mention the negative twist the New York Times put on an article regarding the equine hospital IEAH is building. Yet through all this, IEAH is winning graded stakes after graded stakes – with Frost Giant, Pure Clan, Benny the Bull, and Kip Deville, as well as listed stakes winner Sharp Susan, in July alone -- and is on its way to having the favorite or second choice in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Sprint, Mile, and Filly & Mare Turf, and who knows what else?
So, as the name Big Brown fades from public view, at least until the Haskell Invitational Handicap, all anyone can do is assume that his works have been satisfactory to his connections. For the record, Iavarone said Big Brown “worked beeeautiful over a track that was like Jones Beach” and that exercise rider Michelle Nevin said it was reminiscent of his works at Palm Meadows early in the year when he was “cutting through the wind and through the track.”
As Iavarone said, “The Haskell cannot come too soon.” I’m sure. A great deal of debris has piled up in front of Big Brown since those happier days of the Preakness, and he is going to have to hurdle it in order to get out in the clean open air again. Those ocean breezes blowing in his face as he charges down the Monmouth stretch would be the perfect elixir.
With communications all but broken off between Big Brown and the public, the colt likely will have to win the Haskell, and impressively, in order to re-connect with the fans. But as of now it looks as if the fans will be forced to go into the Haskell without having a clue whether Big Brown’s works have been satisfactory or not. They might not even know what those works are until they see them in the past performances. So, do they bet the bejeebers out of him even though they’ve been kept pretty much in the dark about the horse? It’s just weird. He has two more strong works scheduled before blowing out three-eighths two days before the Haskell, so maybe the public will somehow be made aware of those works and what the connections thought of them.
What’s really strange about this situation is that there is an excellent chance Big Brown will return the same horse he was before the Belmont and blow his opposition away in the Haskell, and we won’t know how people will react. The fans and the media will have to try to recapture the passion they had for the horse, as well as the awe in which they once held him. Could he have lost that all because of one bad day that likely will forever remain a mystery? Is he suffering the slings and arrows that have been hurled at Dutrow? It would be a shame and an injustice if he is. If he continues to progress in his works, and Dutrow is once again beaming with confidence, as silent as it may be this time to outside ears, then why in the world shouldn’t we expect the real Big Brown to resurface on Aug. 3?
Let’s not forget so quickly the amazing feats this horse accomplished in such a short period of time. Unless he was some force that swept through the sport like a tornado and then quickly disappeared, or unless he has problems of which the public is unaware (which it’s been said is not the case), or unless he was somehow traumatized from his Belmont ordeal, there is absolutely no reason to think he won’t return the same horse he was before the Belmont. A horse like Big Brown doesn’t lose what he had, and what he had was something rare.
So, the bottom line is, Big Brown breezed five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 Monday and hardly anyone was aware of it. It looked impressive on paper, but what Dutrow thought of it is anyone’s guess. If Dutrow feels he’s been wronged by the media and wishes to keep his distance he has every right to. But the friction that exists is not healthy. One can only hope the void it has created between Big Brown and his once-adoring fans will be filled in the weeks ahead.