Hard to understand a loser

The only speed on a speed-favoring track, the best closer, the odds-on favorite being asked to run too far too soon, off steroids and off an injury: It's funny how easy the Belmont Stakes looks now, isn't it?

And that, in its own other-worldly way, is what makes horse racing so interesting.

Just to let people who check in on the races four times a year -- for the Triple Crown series, and the Breeders' Cup -- know, this kind of thing happens all the time. Some may not have seen anything so crazy in sports in years, decades, even. I haven't seen anything so surprising in days, when a horse that couldn't win won on an off-track and paid almost $100.

Judging by the reaction from the fans and some of the press, since Big Brown didn't win the race, it was as if nobody had. But somebody won. The speediest horse on a fast track won.

You could almost open a window and hear this echoing across America: What happened?

Here's what happened. Surprising animal behavior happened.

Next time you get a chance, measure off a mile and a half to the grocery store or somewhere and imaging running hard over that distance, your third punishing race in five short weeks. Fatigue happens. Injuries happen. Medication changes happen. Moods happen. That's in humans. You could probably multiply the discomfort by 10 in an animal.

You could tell the horse players in the crowd. As the Belmont long shot hit the wire to pay $79, regulars shrugged, and returned their attention to the Form, looking for a 1-for-30 non-winners of two that could win and easily cover dinner for four.

It was thought by some that a Big Brown victory would elevate the sport and the collective mood of America in some fashion, who knows exactly how -- by making politicians seem more qualified, maybe, or by making the trailer of an Adam Sandler flick seem slightly less depressing. But for the record, if wagering is a factor in a sport, there's nothing really wrong with a show of big bucks.

Here's why figuring winners can be so difficult: After races like the Belmont, sometimes you can't even understand a loser.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.