That's what they're calling the outcome of last Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
If you follow the blog, you know I've watched the Triple Crown races ever since I was a little kid. Now that I work every Saturday, "watch" takes on a slightly different meaning. Getting a break during work almost never happens, so most times I catch the race later that night on the Internet.
But this past Saturday, I actually had the day off. (Long story). At 3:30 PM I was settled on the couch, surrounded by snoozing animals, watching Big Brown lead the parade to the post. His most serious rival, Casino Drive, had been scratched from the race that morning, and none of the other horses were thought to be a threat. After a 30-year drought, it seemed almost inevitable that in just a few minutes, the Crown would fall onto Big Brown's big, handsome head. Finally!
Sure enough, shortly after the start, his jockey got him positioned in the number 3 spot on the outside, perfectly poised to make his move when the right moment came. As the horses came around the final turn, you could see the jockey asking for the tremendous, track-eating burst of speed that was Big Brown's hallmark in the previous two races.
The frontrunner, a long shot named Da'Tara, began opening up his lead. Three lengths...four...five... and Da'Tara swept under the finish line, having led wire-to-wire over the entire 1-1/2 miles, a rare feat in a race this long.
After Eight Belles lost her life in this year's Kentucky Derby, and Barbaro his after a devastating injury in the 2006 Preakness, my first thought (and I'm sure, everyone's first thought) was that Big Brown had been hurt. Thankfully, he wasn't. In post-race interviews, his jockey said that he had "no horse" under him; when he asked Big Brown to move, the horse simply didn't have it in him. At that point, the jockey--wisely, in my opinion--eased him up. Big Brown finished last.
Was Da'Tara that superior a horse? Nope. The only other time the two had raced together, three months ago in the Florida Derby, Big Brown had beaten Da'Tara by 23 lengths. So what happened Saturday? Big Brown showed no sign of lameness or soreness after the race, so the patched quarter crack in his left front foot doesn't seem to be to blame. Was it the heat? Getting dirt kicked in his face for the first time in his career? Could he just plain not handle 3 grueling races in 5 weeks? We'll probably never know; even the people closest to him may never know.
And that, my friends, is why they call it horse racing.
In all the hoopla before the Belmont, and all the head-scratching afterward, though, an important issue came to light--the use of anabolic steroids in racehorses. They're legal in most states, and Big Brown's trainer routinely uses them.*
Should racehorses be given steroids? I say no. It ought to be illegal, and I'm glad that more states are now considering banning their use. I have a few more suggestions for the racing industry, but if the steroids get thrown out, that's a start.
So the Triple Crown drought continues. And while Big Brown's people are surely sorely disappointed, one of his owners, Michael Iavarone, had this to say: “I love this horse. I’ve grown tremendously attached to this horse emotionally. I wanted him to know he could run dead last or first and we would still love him.”
*Although he withdrew Big Brown's usual dose a couple of weeks before the Belmont, in order to prove that his horse could win without the drug. Did that contribute to Big Brown's defeat? The equine veterinarians I've listened to say probably not. Still, it's another thing we'll never know.