Steve Haskin recaps 2008 Triple Crown

[image url=""]Steve Haskin[/image]

Blood-Horse senior correspondent Steve Haskin returns to Talkin' Horses for a recap of the 2008 Triple Crown, one of the most memorable in recent history. Haskin is an award-winning Turf writer renowned for his Kentucky Derby commentary, with weekly articles, Classic Spotlights, and the "Derby Dozen" all found on the website's special Triple Crown Mania section. Previously, during his nearly three decades at Daily Racing Form, Steve made a name with his "Derby Watch" columns.

Haskin--who has won five Red Smith Awards for his Kentucky Derby coverage--is the author of Horse Racing's Holy Grail - The Epic Quest for the Kentucky Derby and biographies of Dr. Fager,John Henry, and Kelso—all published by Eclipse Press.

Willowbrook, IL:
Hello Steve, really enjoyed your Belmont preview video. Thanks to you and your co-host for the Bobby Frankel interview and especially for Bobby's comment on Ventura. Any chance that could be a regular "Weekend" feature where you post an interview with a prominent "straight shooting" trainer or two about the chances of their barn in upcoming races? It really could help us weekend handicappers. Question: What kind of field will show up for the Haskell? Any names you're aware of?

It's way too early to have any idea who is going to run in the Haskell, which isn't until early august. Mike Iavarone said they're considering the Haskell or the Travers for Big Brown's next start; now I hear the Haskell is more likely. Nick Zito's Coal Play won an allowance race at Monmouth by nine lengths, and he likely will be pointed for the Haskell. I could see Smooth Air definitely going there, as well as many of the other Triple Crown horses. As far as the video, I'm glad you like them. They're certainly fun, and my co-host, Lenny Shulman, does a great job moving it along smoothly. His laugh is contagious and lightens everything up. As of now, There have been talks of making this a bi-weekly feature, but I haven't heard anything about having trainer picks. Not being based at the track, that would be difficult. Frankel's pick received a great deal of response, especially from those who bet on the horse.

Louisville, KY:
I was told that PETA was supposed to be protesting out in front of Belmont Park last Saturday. But I haven't read any articles on or the Daily Racing Form talking about them doing it. Has PETA given up?

I'm glad there weren't any articles on our web site. Why give these fanatics any publicity? Excluding their many caring, sane members, PETA has a hardcore group of fanatics who just want to find reasons to protest, while using animal protection as a fa'ade. I love animals as much as anyone, but if you're going to protest something, have an idea what you're protesting against. You have to do a little research and not embark on a crusade in ignorance. Obviously, no one cared if they were at Belmont or not, especially after they could only get 22 protesters for the Preakness.

Dubai, UAE:
Hi Steve! If, according to Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown was not lame by any means, was it really necessary for him to ease him before even hitting the stretch? Should there be some type of suspension for not finishing the race as the horse was not in any apparent distress?

If this were England, Desormeaux most assuredly would have been called in by the stewards to offer an explanation. But you can't suspend a jockey for easing a horse as long as he gives you a logical explanation. In my opinion, he overreacted for whatever reason. I understand the use of caution after the Eight Belles incident, but don't come back afterward and say the horse wasn't injured; it just wasn't his day. You can stop riding a horse without yanking him to the outside rail and pulling him up abruptly. By doing that, in light of Eight Belles, he created a scene that sent waves of shock and despair throughout the crowd, thinking he had broken down. Big Brown was one angry horse, fighting Desormeaux down the stretch, throwing his head all around. If Desormeaux felt the horse was fine physically then at least let him finish the race instead of putting on a horror show in front of 94,000 people and millions more watching on TV. If he felt the horse take a bad step or do something that alarmed him, that's one thing. But he said he felt nothing wrong, and the horse wanted to keep running down the stretch, so why keep fighting him and trying to pull him up for over a quarter of a mile as if he had indeed broken down just because 'it wasn't his day?' Desormeaux should either offer a concrete reason why he pulled him up like that or admit he made a mistake and acted hastily. Either way, it will be accepted and everyone can move on.

Louisville, KY:
Do you still think Big Brown is the best horse of this year's 3 year old crop? If not, who?

Not only is he still the best of this year's crop, he's 10 lengths the best 3-year-old in the country. Why would that fiasco in the Belmont negate all the spectacular things he did before that? We'll never know the reason or reasons why he ran like he did, so it's best to just forget it and move on.

Howard Beach, NY:
Do you think Kent gave him the best ride? He bumped horses into the first turn aggressively and might have lost air in Big Brown. Also, do you think Zito wanted revenge for Dutrow in the Whitney?

Desormeaux is a very talented rider, and I don't want to keep bashing him, but this is about opinions, and my opinion is he should have either gone to the lead, especially off those early fractions, or he should have kept the horse on the rail until he knew he had a clear opening. It's a mile and a half; why panic and try to get out going into the turn where there is the most chance of bumping and getting pinned in? He had the entire long backstretch to find an opportunity to get out. Once he saw the horse was rank, he should have given him his head and either gone to the front or sit off Da' Tara's flank on the inside if he was afraid of going too fast. The one thing you don't want to do in the Belmont is fight with a rank horse. If you believe he's 10 lengths better than his opposition then let him do what he wants to do. With that said, he did have the horse in a perfect position down the backstretch and he just came up empty, so you have to believe he wasn't going to win no matter what Desormeaux did. But the best way to get a rank horse to relax in the Belmont is to put him on the lead and let him settle because the pace normally is so slow. That would have been his best chance. Of course, that also is called Monday morning quarterbacking.

Louisville, KY:
Everyone is listing excuses of why Big Brown ran last in the Belmont. But no one said the old "He didn't like the track..." excuse. Do you think that was why he lost?

That most certainly has been used as an excuse (by his owner among others), and it could very well be a valid one. But I think it was one of several excuses he had, and it's possible they all contributed in some way to his defeat. I also have to mention that I'm wary of horses who are attempting to sweep the Triple Crown having only one five-furlong breeze between the Preakness and Belmont. I wrote about this in Wednesday's column, and if you didn't read it, I'll reprint most of it. Smarty Jones had one slow seven-furlong breeze and came up a bit short in the Belmont. I'm certainly not comparing Big Brown to Secretariat, but in between the Preakness and Belmont, Big Red breezed six furlongs in 1:12 1/5 in the slop on May 27, worked a mile in 1:34 4/5 on June 1, and breezed a half in :46 3/5 two days before the race. And that was more the norm than having only one little five-furlong breeze. All our Triple Crown winners had strong works before the Belmont. If a horse did what Secretariat did now, everyone would jump down the trainer's throat. But I hate to tell you this: that's how you win the Triple Crown. I don't necessarily mean working that fast, but having at least two strong works and keeping the horse on the roll he's been on and not letting him come off his adrenaline high and get his nerves too wound up.

It is very possible those missed training days proved more costly than people think, because it wasn't until then that Big Brown starting getting too tough and was crawling out of his skin. Remember, the quarter crack came after a week of little activity, so he went 17 days after the Preakness without working. He got too wound up and it continued all the way to race day in the holding barn and on the track. That's not want you want to see from a professional horse like him before a mile and a half race. His strength was his ability to settle and relax, and those missed days and having only one easy breeze in three weeks lit a fire in him that caused him to bubble over on race day. I believe that, combined with a tiring track, the sweltering heat, and other factors, is what did him in. So, why did I pick him to win? Because I thought he was so much better than everyone else he could overcome it, and felt maybe he'd settle down by race day. Assuming that was the main cause of his defeat, he obviously couldn't overcome it, so I was wrong. But I still feel the real Big Brown would have won by a pole.

Elmont, NY:
Steve, I guess now we can say that if Curlin and BB meet in the BC it's no match for Curlin. He should win easy right?

Why would 'we' say that? Are we that unforgiving that one inexplicable performance negates five spectacular performances? Let's give this horse a break. When Curlin ran a dull third in the Haskell, it didn't stop him from coming back and winning the JC Gold Cup, Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup. Everyone tossed War Pass out of the Derby picture after his debacle in the Tampa Bay Derby, and he came back to run one of his best races in the Wood Memorial. As for the Breeders' Cup, don't be so sure Curlin is going to go out there to run on a synthetic surface, especially considering we don't even know what kind of surface it's going to be. Horse of the Year or a showdown between the two best horses in the country should not be decided on a synthetic surface. They could both go out there and get beat by Heatseeker or some other synthetic specialist, and what would that prove?

Deptford, NJ:
Is there any horse left in the world with any credentials that Curlin hasn't beat?

Yes, Big Brown.

Lake Forest, IL:
Hey Steve, You are an "Icon" in Horse racing and your knowledge is the best!! Great Job! What I want to know in all honesty did you at even one point think Da Tara could be a threat to win? Also, did you spend any time with Nick Zito leading up to the race where he hinted this horse is sitting on a big race? Thanks and keep up the good work!

Thanks, but 'Icon' is far above my realm. I do appreciate it, however. First off, I did spend time with Zito, and he felt the horse would run well, but he's not going to tell you he thought he'd win, especially by 5 1/4 lengths. As for me, I respect Zito and anything he puts in the Belmont, but in all honesty I never once thought he would win.

Newton Centre, MA:
Why was Big Brown pulled to the outside (three wide) before the clubhouse turn and then proceeded to run the entire race three wide - how far did he actually run versus the winner who raced on the rail the entire race - in the re-play, you can see the horses' head yanked to the right and pulled to the outside even though the inside was wide open - either the jockey or trainer or owner made a major mistake in saying "don't get boxed in" - that is the only explanation I see for what happened. Your thoughts?

Well, I think I said enough about that. Only Kent Desormeaux can explain what he did. I will say again, he did get the horse in a perfect striking position down the backstretch, where he had no excuses. The way Big Brown ran, he wasn't going to win no matter how he was ridden. The fact that he had absolutely no response when Desormeaux asked him at the half-mile pole indicates this wasn't going to be his day. You can peck away at different elements of the race, but as they say, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Had he made a big run and then flattened out, then you could say it might have been the bumping and steadying early on. But I can't pin his performance on one thing.

Hamburg, Germany:
Mr. Haskin, why is there no open debate regarding Big Brown's accomplishments and failure and with regards to his medication? If a body builder or sprinter stops doping, he will eventually shrink and slow down. I would suggest the same is true for equine athletes.

You can't compare a human pumping himself with steroids to a racehorse getting a little Winstrol every month or so to help stimulate his appetite. I, like everyone else, am opposed to steroids in any amount and feel they should be banned, which I am sure they will be, especially now. Ask any trainer or veterinarian and they will tell you Big Brown's performance in no way had anything to do with coming off steroids. And it's not like he's been off them for a long time. He had them a little over a month ago. This is totally overblown, and I can assure you Big Brown was not the only horse in the Belmont who was on steroids. There are trainers who give steroids more often than once a month and in much higher doses. I don't know why racing (whoever racing is) just doesn't ban them already and get it over with. Pretty soon you'll have racing writers follow baseball writers and refuse to vote any horse on steroids into the Hall of Fame.

Montreal, Quebec:
Hello Steve, Do you believe Big Brown's lack of seasoning as a two-year old got the best of him in the Belmont. I believe without a doubt that to win the Crown we must have a two-year old champion participating in the classics.

You know, I've been saying and writing that for years. I have always maintained that the next Triple Crown winner would be one who went into his 3-year-old year already a champion or household name, like the other Triple Crown winners of note. I thought Street Sense fit that bill, but it didn't quite work out. Lack of seasoning at two can always catch up to you at some point at three. I thought maybe Big Brown was so special and exceptional he could overcome that. Whether than contributed to his downfall is anyone's guess.

Louisville, KY:
Steve, there are those who are humble and there are those who are about to be. Zito, Carroll, and Pletcher represent their owners and horses with class, and thankfully the racing gods took note. Especially nice to see a fresh new face on the scene like David Carroll. Do you think Churchill can lure Curlin, Big Brown, Da' Tara, Denis of Cork, and others with a nice purse hike for the Clark Handicap in the fall so we don't have to witness the travesty of these horses in the Breeders Cup on a yet to be determined synthetic surface?

I couldn't agree more about David Carroll. He is all class, a terrific guy, and he did a hell of a job with Denis of Cork after the colt's schedule was altered dramatically. To get him to come off that dull Illinois Derby performance and finish third in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Belmont was a terrific job of training. And we haven't even seen the best of Denis of Cork. Watch out for him later in the year. I'd love to see Horse of the Year decided in the Clark. Don't discount the possibility. All I know is that Horse of the Year or any championship should not be decided on a synthetic surface.

Palm Beach, FL:
I saw a two year old named Mr. Mistoffeles destroy a maiden field by 9 in a 4 1/2 furlong race. Have you heard about him yet and if so, how good is he?

I saw that race, and Pletcher really likes the colt. You normally won't see a 2-year-old winning 4 1/2-furlong races by nine lengths go on to be a Derby-type horse. But for now he looks to be a brilliant colt.

Saratoga Springs, NY:
Do you think distance was the reason big Brown lost the Belmont?

When a horse has no response after going a mile, it wasn't the mile and a half that beat him.

Frankfort, KY:
What do you think was the major reason for Big Brown losing the Belmont? He had previously beaten Da' Tara by over 20 lengths in the Florida Derby. Do you think Big Brown will be able to rebound?

I've already answered the first part. As for the second part, I have absolutely no doubt he will rebound, barring anything unforeseen. There is no reason to believe he isn't still the same Big Brown we saw in the Derby and Preakness. Any athlete is allowed a bad day.

Slippery Rock, PA:
Hi Steve, I'm not sure if you remember, but I asked you in another BloodHorse chat in February about Da' Tara - who I'd seen break his maiden and thought he had potential to be a Triple Crown horse. Who knew after such a slow start - he'd end up fulfilling my prediction? Here's my question - with Colonel John and Da' Tara both pointing for the Travers, as well as Big Brown - who do you think will most likely handle the track, the trip and weather? If weather and deepness of Belmont truly were the only reasons Big Brown failed - what's to say he won't wilt under the heat and sand at Saratoga in August? Your insight is always appreciated!

That sounds familiar, and I'm pretty sure I didn't exactly rave about the horse. Great prognostication on your part. What he did have going for him is that he's by Tiznow, and the Tiznows are for the most part late developers. Regarding the Travers, no one can say for sure it was the heat that got to him. And Saratoga and Belmont are two totally different surfaces. If Big Brown comes back healthy, he should tower over these horses again. By the way, Dutrow said he is going to keep Big Brown at Aqueduct and not train him at Saratoga.

Newark, DE:
Steve, Now that the Triple Crown is over I'm excited to watch some of the other divisions other than the classics develop. Who would you rank as the top three in the Ladies Classic Division (formerly the Distaff)?

Zenyatta looks like a monster and I see no one beating her on any surface. Ginger Punch is sharp right now and she's still the best filly in the East. And I like Hystericalady. She's tough, she's fast, and she's consistent.

Barboursville, WV:
Steve, I listened to your comments on "Blinkers Off", the TVG special, and it sounded like you really thought Big Brown was a lock. Can you ever remember a more surprising result and so many "so-called" experts being wrong?

Not so much a lock, because I have too much respect for the Belmont Stakes. I just thought it was his race to lose. I don't think any of the 'so-called' experts were wrong. It's not like Big Brown ran his race and finished third or fourth. The race was a complete throwout. Do you really think Da' Tara is a better horse than Big Brown? Da' Tara is developing nicely, but they're not in the same class. The real Big Brown had already beaten Da' Tara by 20 lengths.

Hi Steve, Now that once again we see that anything can happen in the Belmont and usually does, has any other horse besides Secretariat and Da' Tara ever gone wire to wire in the Belmont?

Seattle Slew, Riva Ridge, Swale, Bold Forbes, just to name a few of the more recent ones. Remember that Whirlaway was a stone closer who came from well out of it. But in the Belmont, Eddie Arcaro put him right on the lead. If your horse is tons the best, as big Brown was, putting him on the lead going a mile and a half race is your safest bet, because the pace often is so screwy it makes for oddly run races, and that in turn can lead to odd results.

Well Big Brown did not deliver for whatever reason. I'm a little heartbroken but Da' Tara definitely shined. Do you think it was more of a onetime thing with Da' Tara or do you expect him to progress even more? I know he's talented and his win I thought was very impressive.

Because he's by Tiznow and because he's such a big, immature horse who is just now starting to come into his own, I have to believe he'll continue to progress. With his speed and power, he should be one of the top 3-year-olds this year. But there really isn't much competition. This crop needs to step up. Smooth Air is a good, solid horse, Denis of Cork will keep getting better, Macho Again will be better at slightly shorter distances, Harlem Rocker's last on Polytrack was a throwout. Pyro Visionaire, and Recapturetheglory should come back in good form Saturday, when they run in the Northern Dancer at Churchill Downs. But as of now, you have to rank Da' Tara right up there in the top three or four, maybe even second.

Jason, FL:
With another Triple Crown miss---I am curious to see what your top seven list (from the Bid in 1979 forward) would look like of horses that have won any two legs of the Triple Crown. It is a given that the Bid would be number 1, but what about 2-7?

Yes, definitely Bid No. 1. After that comes (it's too early to rank Big Brown) : Alysheba, Point Given, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex.

Lutherville, MD:
I read an article that quoted a Maryland vet as saying that he thought Big Brown may have suffered an entrapped epiglottis during the initial stages of the Belmont. Often times when horses throw their heads back it can cause the epiglottis to become entrapped. Watching the way Desormeaux wrestled Big Brown to keep him from running up on another horse's hooves and watching Big Brown toss his head around, it seems entirely plausible. The vet went on to say that the horses often can still cruise with an entrapped epiglottis, but cannot not accelerate. If true, this would help explain Big Brown's desultory performance. Have you heard this theory advanced?

I haven't. The horse scoped clean, so I doubt he entrapped. He could have displaced his soft palate, which is not something a scope wouldn't necessarily detect, because it's usually back to normal by the time he's back at the barn. All you can really do is try to make it happen again and see if he displaces. But it is often caused by that type of stress in a race and hinders a horse's breathing. I would have sworn he displaced watching the race. He showed all the signs of it. I'm surprised that was never even mentioned as a possibility.

San Clemente, CA:
I think Da' Tara's win in the Belmont was phenomenal! Tiznow has had a great year at stud. I do feel that Kent should have waited to put Big Brown on the outside a bit later after the first turn. In the aftermath, your thoughts?

I echoed your words earlier. I'm thrilled for Tiznow, who is one of my all-time favorite horses.

Canterbury, CT:
Hi Mr. Haskin, thanks for giving your time. Do you think Steve Asmussen will try running Curlin in California once or twice if he plans on running him in the Breeders' Cup Classic? Do you think Curlin is more likely to run in the Classic here, or in France in the Arc?

Considering he prepped for the Dubai World Cup over there, he might decide to run him in the Goodwood to see if he likes it. If I had Curlin and he showed me he loved the turf I might be inclined to try the Arc. He's already won the Classic and the World Cup. A victory in the Arc would give him a Triple that likely would never be duplicated and stamp him as one of the all-time greats. If he fails, no one is going to hold it against him and he wouldn't lose any stature.

Davie, FL:
You are the definition of class and I thank you for your time. I want to get this of my chest. The point here is Kent gave a terrible ride. I watched the video 30+ times from all angles and the more I watch it the more it does not sit well. Before they even hit the first turn BB was pulled up three times bumped once and was forced to the outside forcing him to go 5 wide. Down the backstretch still 5 off the rail. Kent never hit him with the whip once. The horse still wanted to run down the stretch; he was fighting Kent the whole way. What is your opinion of this?

First off, thank you for that glowing praise. If you could see me right now in my tattered jeans and holes in my socks you'd probably want to take back the word class. But, seriously, thank you. You pretty much summed up everything I've said before, and Gary Stevens and Chris McCarron have said it in print. I don't think his ride got the horse beat, but let's just say it was not Desormeaux's shining moment. And his comments after the race were so all over the place; you had no idea what he was thinking or talking about. But the bottom line is, the horse had a bad day, so let's just chalk it up to his rider having a bad day as well. It happens.

Corbin, KY:
Steve, Can you believe Dutrow throwing Kent under the bus for the Belmont ride? Big Brown was spinning his wheels the whole way, his stride was decisively shorter and his action much quicker than any other time I've seen this horse run all indicators he wasn't balanced and grabbing the track very well. What are your thoughts on how Big Brown looked?

Kent didn't ride a great race, but he didn't cost Big Brown the race in any way whatsoever. I believe, as I stated earlier, he didn't like the track and those four missed training days hurt him, along with having only one work, because it changed him from a relaxed, professional horse to a horse who was near impossible to walk every day and who was too keyed up going into the race. They just were never able to take the edge off him. As for Dutrow, he speaks his mind. His timing isn't always the best, but he tells you what he feels in spite of the repercussions. He has always acted on impulse and that's why he was always getting in trouble when he was younger. I will say, however, he is refreshing in a way, because reporters are so used to being lied to or fed a bunch of bull dong by trainers.

Floral Park, NY:
When Big Brown worked 5/8's of a mile in one minute flat on the Tuesday before the Belmont, he galloped out the 6 furlongs in 1.14 and 2/5's according to Equibase. That means his gallop out time for that one furlong after his work was 14 and 2/5's which is very slow for a horse they were comparing to some of the greatest horses of all time. Any really good horse like Secretariat or The Bid would have galloped out in 1.12 and change. When BB could only gallop out in 14 and 2/5, I immediately raised the yellow warning flag. What is your take on this?

It looked like Michelle took him out several paths after the wire, so he wouldn't gallop out fast. It looked to be by design. I wasn't something I'd want to see for reasons stated earlier about sending a sharp horse to the Belmont. But it could be they didn't want to put too much additional pressure on his foot. His gallop-out in the work in my opinion has no bearing on anything.

Arlington Heights, IL:
Hi Steve.... Fans of Big Brown have been critical of his connections for saying he won't race beyond his 3-year-old season. College basketball fans, however, never seem to be all that upset when the top stars leave after their freshman years to turn pro. Fair comparison?

Not really, because they're not retiring. They're just going on to the next step in their career. They're still playing. Everyone knows ahead of time a college athlete is not going to play ball there for 20 years. It's three or four years and out. If college basketball players left school to father little college basketball players (or I should say big ones) then you could make a comparison.

Cedar Rapids IA:
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions today. I've always liked Denis of Cork and wondered what your take was on his Belmont run? Any word on where he'll be racing next? Also, I loved your article about Casino Drive and his connections, what wonderful sportsmen the Japanese are. I can't wait to have them back for the Breeders' Cup!

I thought Denis of Cork ran an excellent race over a track where closers weren't doing much. I actually would have liked to seen him a little closer to the pace, but he still ran a big race and will only get better. The Japanese were a delight, and added so much to the Belmont. They are so enthusiastic and passionate, and their horses are so happy and well conditioned. We could learn a lot from them.

Poquoson, VA:
Any indication of anhydrosis with Big Brown. Jerry Bailey before the race was explaining normal sweating in horses. He said sweating between the legs was not good but was cut off before explaining. I noticed in the replay of the race what appeared to be a lot sweat between Big Brown's hind legs in the first turn.

He had sweat between his legs and was dry on his body. I'm not an expert by any means, but in 95-degree weather you want to see your horse sweating to some extent on his body and not between his legs. That's just another part of the puzzle that won't ever be solved.

Bellmore, NY:
Ok, I feel like I'm the only one who has noticed this, but how come after the Florida Derby, Big Brown was no longer wearing a flash noseband? He wore it in the allowance race and in the Florida Derby, but not in the Triple Crown races. I know that it is an obscure detail, but I'm curious to see if you might have the answer.

Here is Dutrow's explanation: "I look the drop noseband off of him after the Florida Derby, and I put a ring bit on him. I didn't like the way things looked in the Florida Derby. He finished in the middle of the track, and his bit was all the way to the inside of his mouth. I didn't like the way he finished up in the race, so I changed it. If I watch the Florida Derby, you are going to see what I see, so I had to make a change. He was getting out there. I ran him without it in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. It's all the same."

Willowbrook IL:
Hello Steve, Always enjoy the "Great Wagering Days" associated with the Triple Crown, full fields, good stakes races, high handle and nice payouts. Are there any great wagering weekend between now and the Breeder's Cup? Seems like an opportunity for some tracks to coordinate cards for some weekends in July, August and September. It may help to draw more interest to the Breeders' Cup. What do you think?

Sure, the Foster weekend coming up this Saturday should be a good one. Arlington Million weekend is always fun and competitive. Travers weekend has a ton of stakes, all competitive. I'm sure the fall weekends at Santa Anita will have lots of stakes and full fields.

Los Angeles, CA:
If Casino Drive ran in the Belmont, do you think he would have run like Big Brown?

Do you mean because he'd be running with an injury? They'd never run him unless they thought he was fine. If he didn't have the injury I'd say there's a very good chance he would have won, and impressively. That is if he went into the race as good as he did in the Peter Pan and didn't regress off it. Off his Peter Pan, and with his pedigree, I'd have to think he would have won convincingly.

Garden City, NY:
How do you feel about these "hedge fund" type ideas and names? Whatever happened to Faraway Farm, Greentree, Rokeby, etc? Racing is an agricultural offshoot, & the thinking behind these new ventures makes me fear much more for the welfare of the horses. How do you feel?

If you can find enough people willing to take high risks I guess it's OK. It's not for the small-time syndicate-type owner. However, it will be hard on the smaller partnerships and owners because they won't be able to compete financially with a hedge fund. I'm not quite sure why it would affect the welfare of the horses from an agricultural standpoint. If you want to elaborate on that you can e-mail me. I can't tell if you're just using those three farms as examples of the agricultural aspect of the business or really want to know what happened to the property. There have been many farms to replace them. Greentree Stud was absorbed by Gainesway years ago. I can try to find out the status of Faraway and Rokeby if that's what you mean.

Dubai, UAE:
Just from a breeding point does Big Brown need to run again or against older horses to justify high value as a stallion prospect?

I would like to think that winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Florida Derby and going to Belmont undefeated gives him high value as a stallion. He's by a well-bred speed sire and has an awesome female family. I'd sure love to breed to him. Of course, beating older horses would increase his value.

Canterbury, CT:
Hi Mr. Haskin I was so happy when I saw you were on for questions again! Thank you. I was thrilled that Big Brown lost the Belmont. He was extremely impressive in winning his first five starts but I didn't want him to win the Triple Crown, beating weak competition and take Horse Of The Year away from the obviously superior horse (can you tell I'm a Curlin fan!). Now that he's lost, and lost big, I would think if Curlin keeps up his rampage of wins he'll be 2008 horse of the year. What do you think?

Most definitely, Curlin is once again the frontrunner for Horse of the Year. Big Brown would have to beat him, assuming Curlin keeps on winning. If they meet it will come down to that race and the winner would be Horse of the Year. If they don't meet and both go undefeated the rest of the year then it's going to be close. Curlin is the defending Horse of the Year, so he might have the advantage. It could come down to which one wins the BC Classic, although that race this year should not decide Horse of the Year. I'd love to see them meet in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs for all the marbles.

Lexington, KY:
Why was the starter for the Belmont out on the track, away from the rail so far? I looked at last year's Belmont and I did not see anyone out on the track.

Good question. In the stories I've read it said he didn't return phone calls. I saw a photo taken from the gate out, and he sure looked distracting to me, especially dressed in a dark blue jacket and while pants. You've got Big Brown on the inside trying for Triple Crown, at least wear a brown suit. And duck under the rail after the break. He started walking toward the horses like he was out for a morning stroll.

Plowville, PA:
I have heard from 2 people that Big Brown flipped out in pre race detention barn, and one said state vet gave him something to calm down. Did you hear anything?

I don't know about being given anything. I can't imagine what they would give him on race day, but, yes, he did act up in the holding barn, and that certainly didn't help him. It's also very uncharacteristic of him.

Tallahassee, FL:
Do you think if Dutrow had given Big Brown a blow out the morn of the race as he did on Preakness day that he might have been less rank acting and ran his usual great race?

I think it's a good possibility, but Dutrow had to postpone his work until Tuesday, so that all but eliminated him giving him a blowout on Saturday. He had just gotten his hoof patched the day before, and ideally, you want to run right after that and not risk anything by working him race day. But he sure could have used a blowout on Friday or Saturday, considering how he was Saturday.

Lexington, KY:
What do you think of Divine Park? Do you think he would be able to challenge Big Brown or Curlin in the Breeders' Cup?

Right now, Divine Park is the top miler in the country, and with the BC Mile and Cigar Mile I wouldn't think they'd stretch him out to face Curlin and Big Brown at 1 1/4 miles. But I can't speak for them. They'll probably stretch him out in the Whitney and see how he does there. If he runs huge, then there's always the possibility of pointing for the Classic if that's the path they choose.

St, Petersburg, FL:
Steve, How do the top jocks travel? I would assume most of the upper tier guys are traveling by an owner's private jet to whatever track they are heading to for the weekend. I am also curious as to what a Garrett Gomez pulls in each year.

Most of them fly on a regular airline. I'm sure there are a few occasions when they'll fly on a private jet, but most owners don't have private jets at their disposal. As for Gomez, just take 10% of his annual winnings, add his fee per mount, and other miscellaneous income, and you've got a pretty nice sum.

Napa, CA:
Why do owner's and the owner's of Syndicate's, such as IEAH, get so much credit for how a horse performs?

Credit from whom? They get as much credit as other owners, and they'll be the first to admit they don't deserve any praise or credit. Most of them are lucky to come up with top horses, but they have to hire the right people to buy horses for them and then give them to the right trainer. It took West Point Stable 17 years before they came up with a grade I winner, and now you can't stop them. It's all cyclical. Enjoy the ups while they last. IEAH buys high-priced, ready made horses, so they have a better chance of getting major stakes winners.

Ventura, CA:
Steve, Thanks as always for great TC coverage. I have a lot of questions, but the one I'll ask is in regards to class. Do you think it's possible that Smarty Jones and Big Brown were really shorter distance horses who just had the class to beat their peers at middle distances like 10f but didn't have the pedigree to handle 12f?

It's very likely. There's a big difference between 1 1/4 miles and 1 1/2 miles. Smarty Jones definitely had limitations, and even had the class and speed to win the Belmont if he hadn't been ganged up on by three riders on top-quality horses. Despite their tactics and pushing him to run a :22 4/5 third quarter, which cost all of them any shot to win or even finish in the money, he still almost pulled it off. Big Brown was all speed on top, but had plenty of stamina on the bottom. But 1 1/2 miles still was not his best distance by any means.

Alabaster, AL:
First, thanks for doing these live discussions. I always LOVE getting your insight because I'm new to racing. My question is about the ride Kent Desormeaux gave Big Brown. With your insight do you think the horse was done a disservice by being eased.

I'm sure you've already read the answer to your question earlier on, but I have to mention Alabaster, Alabama, because it has such a great ring to it; like a show tune title.

Columbia, MD:
With the aftermath of the Belmont Stakes and Big Brown's poor performance, the whole issue of anabolic steroid use has intensified. To When Mr. Zito was asked if any of his horses that raced in the Belmont Stakes were on anabolic steroids, it is reported that he refused to say. Boy, doesn't that make one even more suspicious about this issue. If it is legal, why not report this fact like the use of Bute, Lasix, Blinkers, or the type of shoes the horse is wearing? Shouldn't the racing public feel uncomfortable with Mr. Zito not answering the anabolic steroid use issue?

I have no idea why Zito wouldn't answer, and I'm not about to speculate why. Hopefully, all steroids will be banned and we can avoid what baseball has been going through. The time to act on this is now.

Springfield, PA:
Steve, Where were all the bridge jumpers I had Anal Nakal for third but no big payout with Big Brown out of the money.

I'm sure the bridge jumpers stayed away because of the quarter crack, and you have to remember, the show pool paid off to fourth, not third, because of the dead-heat.

Flemington, NJ:
Hey Steve- love your work. Who do you feel to be a better race horse, Invasor or Curlin? Hard to question to answer I know, but I would like to know what your opinion is. Thanks!

Thanks. I can't answer that objectively because Invasor is one of my favorite horses. It's hard to compare them because Invasor didn't get an opportunity to compete in our classics. They're very close in ability and I believe it's splitting hairs trying to decide who is better.

Paris, KY:
Thanks for showing up again so soon. I was wondering about your thoughts on Zenyatta. We think that she is shaping up to be something very special, and are very excited about what she can accomplish. Do you think she could even face the boys later this year?

I certainly do. I believe she is so talented she should point for the Classic. She's already proven she's equally as brilliant on dirt and synthetic, and is unbeaten in four starts on the latter. The big-name colts from the East still have to prove they can handle it. She's big, powerful, and has an incredible closing kick. The way she blows by horses with her ears pricked is quite a sight. Now that Triple Crown is over, it's time to start focusing on horses like Zenyatta.

Lake Oswego, OR:
Hello, I would like an update on War Pass and was wondering if anyone knew when he was going to be all healed and returned to racing?

I asked Zito and he was pretty vague. I wouldn't be surprised to see him come back and I wouldn't be surprised to see him retired.

Redwood City, CA:
Steve, I've gone from a serious 5 day a week player to an occasional once every month our two player thanks the CHRB mandate to synthetic tracks. Is there any hope at all that we will ever return to handicappable dirt tracks again?

We almost did. Stronach wanted to return to dirt, but went with the wishes of the trainers who attended a meeting on what surface to put in. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the trainers invited by the CHRB were those who were already in favor of synthetic surfaces, so it wasn't exactly a level playing field. I'm afraid you're now stuck with it, and so is the Breeders' Cup, by their own doing...for the next two years. Hollywood's Cushion Track doesn't seem as bad as the others from a handicapping standpoint. The races at least resemble dirt racing. Hopefully, Del Mar learned from last year's debacle and will get a handle on it. But visually and handicapping-wise it will never be like dirt racing. It's awesome for training, but has a ways to go before its legitimate racing as we've known it.

Pacifica, CA:
Hi. I was wondering about inquiries. Seems every track has different rules. When a horse come out of gate and smash into other horses and wins, and the horse he bumped runs 2nd and no DQ. Not to mention the fact when they do allow a disqualification, the jock doesn't get set down for a few days. Your thoughts?

The tracks don't have different rules. Stewards have different rules. Why, I have no idea. They're people and people have different outlooks and opinions on race-riding and different thoughts about suspensions. It's like everything else in racing. Each track is a separate entity, which is why racing is so fragmented. For years, southern California stewards have fallen for the old stand-up-in-the-saddle routine by jockeys. You're always going to have controversies when it comes to disqualifications. You just have to hope you're on the right side more than the wrong side.

Baltimore, MD:
Why does the wagering public continue to be treated with disdain by the people they are supporting? Kent D saying he stopped because he could not get 5th is again another slap in the face. If this had been the feature race on a Thursday and not a classic on the heels of Eight Belles, would not Kent have been reprimanded? There is much anger among the wagering public that needs to be addressed. It is outside wagering that supports this game and all those who make their living from it.

We don't reprimand in this country. They reprimand in Europe. Desormeaux is a talented rider, but he's been easing horses before the wire for years when he sees he can't win or get second or third. It drives the trainers batty, but he keeps doing it. British stewards would throw the book at him for that. He was warned by the Japanese stewards after misjudging the finish line in a Japan Cup undercard race not to do it in the Japan Cup aboard the favorite Kotashaan. Well, he did it again, standing up for seven strides well before the finish and getting beat a nose. I guess the trainers have learned to accept those things from him because he's such a talented rider, and he'll give you great ride more often than he screws up.

Urbana, OH:
Why do we still have handicap races? Why not just delight in the greatness and extraordinary ability that a horse like Curlin has? Are we trying to get him beat or avoid a walkover or just appeasing the big gamblers? What is it that deters us from just letting the horses run -- and the best horse winning?

I'm totally against handicap races, especially in graded stakes. The concept of handicap races was to bring the horses closer together for betting purposes, because no one wants to bet on an odd-son favorite. But that was when there were no exotic bets. You had win, place, and show and that was it. Later you one daily double on the first and second races. That's the way I first knew the sport. Now, you don't need to bring the horses together because you have exactas, quinellas, trifectas, superfectas, multiple daily doubles, pick 4's, pick 6's. You can use the favorite any way you like. There is no reason at all for Curlin to have to carry 128 pounds and concede weight. Why punish your biggest stars for being better than anyone else? We need to showcase our stars, not try to get them beat. Unlike years ago, Curlin doesn't need to carry high weight prove how good he is. Back then, trainers had classy owners and they didn't mind getting beat by the weights. They just brought them right back carrying less weight. But that was when horses ran 40, 50, 60 times and people just remembered their wins. Now, horses run 10, 12, 15 times and each loss is magnified.

Pittsburgh, PA:
What does the consensus of vets say: could the lack of the May Winstrol dose have played a role in Big Brown's Belmont performance or not? His fantastic first race BEFORE he became Dutrow's horse indicates he is indeed a super horse by his own natural ability. And why would the owners now prefer the Haskell to the Travers? I would think they would go by the opinion of the expert horseman, their trainer they hired, especially with Big Brown's reputation in jeopardy and with a lack of proper training being a factor sited for the Belmont outcome.

I've addressed the Winstrol issue in my latest column. Vets and trainers say it would not play any role in his performance. As for the Haskell that is IEAH's choice from what I've read. Perhaps they'd rather bring him back at 1 1/8 miles instead of 1 1/4 miles. Perhaps they feel the Monmouth surface is more suitable to Big Brown than Saratoga. I don't know if this is etched in stone or not. It's a long way off. Remember, the Haskell is a handicap, and the Travers is equal weights. Only in the past year or two have horses run in either the Haskell or Travers. Most good horses used to run in both. But many trainers want more than three weeks in between races, especially after running off a layoff. Look at Curlin last year. He came back dull in the Haskell and waited for the JC Gold Cup, while Street Sense came back sharp in the Jim Dandy, then won the Travers...just like horses used to do.

Atlanta, GA:
I guess a lot of people are wondering and would love your expert opinion on this: do you think a Pat Day or Jerry Bailey could have won the Belmont on Big Brown? I realize it's only speculation at this point, but highly respect your views. Thanks for your time.

That's an odd question, not only in premise, but in choice of jockeys. I don't think Desormeaux got Big Brown beat, despite his questionable ride, so I don't think it mattered who was on his back. I appreciate the spirit in which the question was asked, but I'm sure you won't be surprised when I tell you I can't answer it. It's just way too speculative for me. I will say this. I don't think I can ever remember a big horse in a big race who lost because of a bad ride by Jerry Bailey. I'm sure there were; I just can't think of any offhand. To me, that says all there is to say about Bailey.

Edison, NJ :
Much talk about Curlin as a all time great. How do you rate Street Sense? Both won one Breeders Cup and one Triple Crown race plus S.S. won Travers and Jim Dandy.

Curlin isn't a great horse yet, but he could be by the end of the year. He still hasn't won a race in the U.S. this year, and really didn't beat much in the World Cup. But he looked super doing it, and if he can win the Foster under 128 pounds and then win races like the Whitney or JC Gold Cup, he certainly has to be considered great. If he wins the Arc, we're talking super horse. Even if he won the BC classic on synthetic it would add a new dimension to his versatility. I think Street Sense has been unjustly forgotten because of Curlin's Classic and his fourth-place finish. But to win the BC Juvenile, Ky. Derby, and Travers is an amazing feat, something you just don't see any more. What a difference that head in the Preakness made. He looked to be the quintessential Triple Crown horse. Had he won that Preakness, Rags to Riches wouldn't have run in the Belmont, and if Curlin lost to her he certainly had a good chance to lose to Street Sense, who would have relished a mile and a half. I think Street Sense accomplished as much as Curlin did.

Canterbury, CT:
Thank you so much for coming to answer our questions! With Big Brown having lost the Belmont so poorly is there any chance he can win Horse Of The Year other than by meeting Curlin and defeating him?

I wouldn't think so. He would have to beat Curlin or win everything and have Curlin lose.

Louisville, KY:
A lot of times, the winner of the Belmont comes back and never wins again. Horses like Editor's Note, Jazil, Commendable, Rags to Riches, Sarava, etc. Do you think Da' Tara will ever win again? Why or why not?

In this crop I would certainly think he'll win again. As I mentioned earlier, being by Tiznow and with his size and natural speed I can't imagine not continuing to improve. I don't think he's in the same class as Big Brown, but he can beat most of the other 3-year-olds.

Miami, FL:
Thanks to Bobby Frankel's tout on the video, I had Ventura and celebrated the score at Don Pepe's --- now, that is a daily double! I guess I am now obligated to watch every minute of every video that Lenny and you do for the rest of eternity!

You better believe you do. You owe us now.

Sun Valley, CA:
Has anyone else noticed that the one-two finishers in the Belmont are related tail female with Dam and Granddam being full sisters by Pirate's Bounty?

I sure didn't I'm embarrassed to say. Great job pointing that out. It would have made a super exacta pick.

Naperville, IL:
Thank you for coming to answer our questions today! Do you think there could be a possibility of Curlin starting in the Arlington Million as a prep this year if his connections decide to take him overseas on the turf?

I wouldn't discount it, but I just don't know if the timing is right, especially considering they haven't made up their minds yet whether that's the direction they want take.

Saddle Brook NJ:
Horses whom we consider great and are given special treatment and care. Do they know they are special?

I don't know that great horses are given special treatment. They get fed and groomed just like all the other horses in the barn. Perhaps the great ones know they're great in their own minds and how they relate with other horses, but not by anything we do. But it is possible they can pick up certain vibes from us. I don't think anyone really knows for sure.

Ft.Lauderdale, FL:
Steve: I would like to know how can Big Brown go of at 1-5 odds in the Preakness. Come back 3 weeks later his main competition Casino Drive is scratched and yet he goes off at 1-4. Any explanation for this?

It's most likely because of the quarter crack. It probably kept the bridge jumpers away, and it was enough to keep the big bettors from making him shorter. Bettors don't like pounding a horse at the windows if there is even a hint he isn't 100% physically. That's really the only reason I can think of.

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