Print and Go Back ESPN.com: HorseRacing [Print without images]

Friday, June 13, 2008
It could have been anything - except the ride

By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com

Blaming Kent Desormeaux for Big Brown's putrid performance in the Belmont Stakes is beyond dumb. It is insane. The Kent bashers have lost their minds, and they should be institutionalized.

When a horse is as bad as Big Brown was in the Belmont Stakes, it cannot possibly be the jockey's fault. A jockey's ride might mean the difference of a length or two. This horse was beaten a sixteenth of a mile. Big Brown clearly wasn't right, clearly wasn't the same horse that was so dominant in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He was through with a half-mile to go, completely empty. How can that possibly be the jockey's doing?

The "It Was All Kent's Fault" crowd will tell you that he somehow lost the race, all 12 furlongs of it, when he restrained Big Brown in the early going rather than let him run freely. That is ridiculous because:

Dutrow has been the lead Desormeaux basher since the Belmont and his criticisms have included the jockey's decision to ease Big Brown. Instead of ripping him for pulling the horse up he should throw a parade in his honor. The horse was hopelessly beaten and is worth $50 million. It would have been reckless and dangerous to ask a tired, defeated horse for everything down the stretch. Imagine if those tactics caused an injury. Desormeaux would have been vilified.

Now, even Desormeaux has chimed in with a conspiracy theory of his own, blaming the starter. Desormeaux told the New York Daily News that Big Brown shied away from starter Roy Robert Williamson, who positioned himself on the racetrack itself, a few feet from the inner rail, and that's why he got into a jackpot early.

So what if he did? This was supposed to be the greatest horse to hit the racetrack since Spectacular Bid. He's supposed to overcome what couldn't have been more than a minor distraction.

So, what did happen to Big Brown? I believe this was a case of horse bouncing as hard as a horse can bounce. He had run two very fast races in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in the span of two weeks and was asked to do the same in the Belmont. I figured that he would regress in the final leg of the Triple Crown and I wrote as much in columns touting Casino Drive, who would have surely won this race if he hadn't been injured. Most Triple Crown hopefuls go the wrong way in the Belmont, the primary reason 11 straight horses have now had a chance to win the Triple Crown and have all failed. Of course, I never figured he would fall apart.

A lot had been asked of Big Brown. After running just once as a 2-year-old, he was rushed into a 3-year-old campaign that was delayed due to foot problems. He came into the Kentucky Derby woefully light on experience. He won the Derby and then two weeks later had to do it again in the Preakness. There was every chance the wheels would come off, and did they ever.

Was that it? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. These things happen. Horses are not machines; they have bad days. We may never know what happened to Big Brown in the Belmont Stakes. It could have been anything ... other than a bad ride.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at wnfinley@aol.com.