On May 21, Rick Dutrow Jr. told Blood-Horse reporter Karen Johnson that "the plan is the Belmont, Travers and Breeders' Cup" for Big Brown.
If that really is the plan, horse racing just got a tremendous boost. And I think IEAH Stables' Mike Iavarone deserves a ton of credit for making it happen.
With all the talk about horse racing's long list of problems after the Eight Belles tragedy, seeing Big Brown run in the Travers and Breeders' Cup would be about the best thing that could happen for the sport, as much as if he wins the Triple Crown. A potential matchup between the 12th Triple Crown winner and international superstar Curlin would be one of the biggest events horse racing has seen in many years. It's just what we need.
On the other side of the coin, if he retires right after a Belmont win it would be a disaster. The sport needs him to stick around, at least for a little while.
My opinion? With so much money on the line, and judging by recent history, a large part of me still believes Big Brown will retire after the Belmont. Call me a cynic, but I will only believe otherwise until I see it. Money talks and with more than $40 million on the line, something tells me Big Brown will be standing next to Smarty Jones sooner than later.
Without naming them specifically, there have been more than a few 3-year-old stars in recent years who we were told had career-ending injuries, but truth be told, could have raced on after a short period of rest. But with mega-millions on the line, how can you fault the owners for retiring them?
Which brings me to the point of this blog: What, if anything, can the sport do to encourage owners to race their superstars beyond their 3-year-old season? To me, this is the biggest problem with horse racing.
Imagine if stars retired in other sports right after they won championships. Tiger Woods wins the grand slam next year and then he is gone. Tom Brady wins his fourth Super Bowl title next year and hangs ‘em up. Lebron finally gets his NBA title and says, ‘see ya'.
I know it's ludicrous to believe this that would ever happen, but the point is, a sport's popularity is all about its stars. And every star in horse racing is gone before we even get to know them. It is the single biggest problem this industry faces. We can adopt rules for stricter medication, try to make racing safer for everyone involved, and make other changes across the board, but until we can figure out a way to keep our stars around there is going to be a huge void, and the popularity of the sport will never grow.
I don't have to go through all the names of racing's brightest former stars for you to understand where I'm coming from. You know part of what made Citation, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, and so many others popular was seeing them race as 4 and 5-year-olds. Now, we fall in love with these horses and they are gone tomorrow.
I'm not sure what can be done to entice owners to keep their horses racing longer. Bigger purses wouldn't do it because the money would still pale in comparison to what they would make as stallions. Someone once suggested a 4-year-old Triple Crown. But that wouldn't be enough either. I also read one article that says the industry should enforce a rule which prohibits breeding a horse unless he has raced ‘X number' of times. I don't think that would ever fly.
For now, it's all up to the individual owner and how much risk they are willing to take with their stars. If Iavarone decides to run Big Brown in the Travers and Breeders' Cup he should win the Joe Palmer Award for meritorious service to racing.
Somehow, I just don't think it will happen. And in the end, we are the only ones that lose.