ELMONT, N.Y. - A day later, there still was no explanation - no convincing single-bullet theory - for why Big Brown tired so badly in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, faltering so severely that his jockey eased him up. Big Brown had been going for history, and he made some, becoming the first horse to finish last in the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line.
"We went over him good last night after the race and again this morning, and there's nothing physically that's shown up," said co-owner Michael Iavarone in a statement issued by Belmont's press office.
"I'm as confused as anybody. The only thing we're resorting to right now is the track might have been too deep for him, and he didn't like it out there. He's clean, he's sound. . . . He scoped clean. His feet are ice cold - quarter crack not an issue. He had a very loose hind left shoe, but that's not an issue."
Iavarone added that track officials were not able to fully water the surface.
Nobody else mentioned the track surface being a problem. If no physical problem is found, the best explanation may be simply that Big Brown bounced, big-time. That's the handicapping term for running a bad race after several strong ones. Big Brown had run a huge race in winning the Kentucky Derby, then regressed a bit in the Preakness but still won easily.
The horse missed three days of training after the quarter crack in his hoof was discovered, and he never had a hard workout before the Belmont. He also had a rougher time in a race than ever before, on a 96-degree day. But even all that could not cause anybody to predict this kind of failure.
Trainer Rick Dutrow said he had not given Big Brown his usual steroid dose in May, although there is no verification of when the doses are given since steroids are legal in the states where Big Brown raced this year and no testing is done for the drug.
The rules of racing do not allow jockeys to pull up horses except for physical reasons - imagine the gambling implications - but it is doubtful that Kent Desormeaux will be disciplined for easing Big Brown up, not in a year when the second-place finisher in the Derby fractured both front legs galloping out and had to be euthanized on the track.
As for his place in history, Big Brown takes a big step back, certainly behind Afleet Alex and Smarty Jones, who both missed the Triple Crown by a length. Afleet Alex finished that far back in the 2005 Derby and Smarty Jones missed by that distance in the 2004 Belmont, the last time the Triple Crown was on the line at the Belmont.
To further show the unpredictability of this sport, Nick Zito, the trainer of Da' Tara, the long-shot Belmont winner, had the top Kentucky Derby prospect coming into this year in War Pass. But that horse was injured and is not back on the track yet. Da' Tara was not even supposed to be Zito's second-best 3-year-old. But he was the lone speed horse in this race.
Iavarone had said Big Brown would still be pointed for the Travers in August if he proves to be healthy, although it will be interesting to see how that plays out with a stud agreement already in place. Iavarone said his handlers obviously will be watching Big Brown carefully, to "make sure we didn't miss anything."
Dutrow wasn't available for comment yesterday morning. History won't treat him so kindly - the press yesterday certainly did not - since he trash-talked the competition throughout the Triple Crown campaign, and even questioned the tactics of John Servis, the trainer of Smarty Jones.
Rival trainers openly ripped him for that on Saturday night.
As for Big Brown, his legacy may be tarnished, but not lost. Servis, who will go down in those history books for his uncommon grace under pressure in 2004, said after that Belmont: "If you don't know what it means to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, then you don't understand my business."