ELMONT, N.Y. - For Rick Dutrow to say in the weeks leading up to the 140th Belmont Stakes that it was "a foregone conclusion" that Big Brown would win the Triple Crown was as arrogant and disrespectful as it was idiotic and shortsighted. A foregone conclusion? In horse racing, a sport where anything can happen, and sadly sometimes does?
The loquacious Dutrow should feel about three inches tall today, because Big Brown didn't obliterate the field at the Belmont yesterday. He wasn't the second coming of Secretariat. He failed to win the Triple Crown.
Jockey Kent Desormeaux eased Big Brown at the top of the stretch when it became apparent the horse, for whatever reason, didn't have any gas in the tank.
Whether it was because of his abbreviated prerace training regimen or that slight crack in his front foot or a little bump early in the monster mile and a half, Big Brown didn't deliver, not this time. And the big bay made Dutrow, who mocked the other horses leading up to the race, look like a fool who lacked humility and an appreciation for just how special, and tough, it is to win the Triple Crown.
No horse has done it since Affirmed beat Alydar in 1978. Since that classic duel, 11 horses have entered the Belmont having won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and none - zero, zilch, nada - closed the deal. Silver Charm was overtaken by Touch Gold in 1997. War Emblem stumbled out of the gate in 2002. Smarty Jones lost at the finish to Birdstone in 2004.
It's next to impossible to win the Triple Crown, almost as rare as a Philadelphia franchise winning a championship. Only three horses in the last 60 years have won the Triple Crown - Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed - and yet Dutrow, out of stupidity or blind loyalty, guaranteed his horse would do it.
Despite Big Brown's nagging foot issue, Dutrow one day crowed, "We're looking better by the day." After watching challenger Casino Drive work out last week, Dutrow announced his horse would win "by daylight, easily."
Anything can happen, especially at the Belmont, and anything did. Da' Tara, a 38-1 long shot trained by Nick Zito, led wire to wire, ridden by a jockey, Alan Garcia, who had never had a Belmont mount.
Bob Baffert watched the race from the winner's circle. No one knows better than Baffert how grueling it is to pursue the Triple Crown. He had three chances - with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, and War Emblem in 2002 - and each time Baffert's horse lost.
"If [Big Brown] doesn't do it, we're going to have to wait another 30 years," Baffert said before the race.
As Desormeaux eased Big Brown, Baffert's wife turned to her husband, tears in her eyes and fearing the worst. Big Brown wasn't hurt and, mercifully, didn't suffer the same tragic fate as Eight Belles after finishing second in the Derby. Only the dream of a Triple Crown was dead.
Horse racing will break your heart. It seemed everyone in the sport knew that, except for Dutrow. Maybe he knows now.
When the race was over, Dutrow followed Big Brown from the track through the tunnel and had to listen as one equally loud-mouthed fan berated him with obscenities. Through the paddock it continued, and Dutrow barked at reporters following him to the security barn, "You guys, please don't even think about it."
Dutrow's exercise rider shoved someone as Big Brown slowly made his way to the barn. Some time and several phone calls later, Dutrow emerged from the barn with few answers and many questions.
"I've got no idea," he said when asked what happened to his horse.
Admitting he had not "put everything together" or talked to Desormeaux, Dutrow said: "I'm sure it's not the horse's fault."
Maybe Big Brown failed because he didn't get his monthly steroid shot. Maybe it was because his only workout leading up to the Belmont was a slow breeze. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be.
"If Big Brown was himself, he would have been tough to beat," Zito said, "but he wasn't himself. That's why they play the game. One of my good friends told me the other day, that's why they put up the net."
And that's why Dutrow should've kept his mouth shut. Play the game. Don't guarantee victory. This is horse racing, as unpredictable a business as there is.
"I just went with what I was feeling," Dutrow explained. "I'm sure that didn't get him beat."
No, it didn't. It just assured that Dutrow would look like a fool if his "foregone conclusion" didn't pan out. And as we saw yesterday, it didn't.