Monday, June 9, 2008

Belmont Aftermath

What a difference a race makes! Big Brown the seemingly invincible colt, the sure thing, can lose. Once the invincible aura is broken fear just becomes respect. Does this mean BB is not a great horse? Certainly not. But he will need to continue to race and win, for us to be able to place him among the greats of racing. The 'great' Secretariat failed to win five times (once disqualified) but that fact doesn't for a moment tarnish his reputation. Man O' War, still regarded by many as the greatest horse of all time, lost once. They both raced 21 times. For a horse to earn "all-time" honors it needs to prove itself over time, against worthy competition.

Certainly BB's competition didn't suddenly become great and yet he lost. Team Brown are all looking for a reason, as though there is one. The truth is that there are probably many factors that contributed to him losing. The most formidable being that the Triple Crown may be the most difficult accomplishment in sports. For a horse to run three times in five weeks against the best competition the sport has to offer and win, has to be the greatest of achievements. Perhaps even more so in this era when in each contest there is new, fresh competition. BB's quarter crack didn't help him either. Whether it became a factor in the race we'll never know but it did become a factor in his training. Schedules were changed, gallops were missed and he was likely handled somewhat differently even if unconsciously. Steroids: we have heard Dutrow and veterinarians state that they don't believe not receiving his monthly shot of Winstrol could have had any negative effect on his performance. I completely disagree. I don't think racing should allow any drugs but at this point they are legal and were being used by BB, why would Dutrow do anything different before the penultimate performance? It's dangerous to substitute arrogance for confidence. Zito, who won with Da' Tara, along with Pletcher, who ran Ready's Echo (dead heated for 3rd) were two that refused to state positively yes or no when asked if their horses were running on steroids; I think we all interpret that non-answer the same way. So even if not receiving his shot didn't diminish BB's performance he was running against horses that were using and so their performance was enhanced. A horse that I liked very much going into the race, Icabad Crane, doesn't use them and he beat only Big Brown. It makes one draw some conclusions, doesn't it? Yet another reason may be as Desormeaux said, the track was deep and he was just not handling it well. And let's not forget the heat. Although he looked well in the post parade there was no telling how any of them would handle the heat. I worked around a horse that responded to heat by hanging his head and letting his bottom lip just droop so low it was practically on the ground. I thought he would just keel over at any moment. But as soon as the cool weather returned his head rose like a flower reaching for the sun.

All of these are probably reasons that contributed to Big Brown's loss. But the way he lost bothered me the most. Desormeaux pulled him up like he had broke down. The horse may have had nothing left in the tank but he had enough to fight Desormeaux about being pulled up. Desormeaux spit the bit, not the horse. I think we all agree, he was not going to win, but Desormeaux just quit. He should have let the horse do what he could. I'm not saying he should have whipped BB, but just worked with what was left. Let the horse lose like a champion should, fighting, even if there is nothing left in the tank and he is not going to win. It smacks a bit of the kid who takes his ball and goes home because he's not winning. I think Desormeaux's despondency resulted in a loss of dignity for Big Brown, the dignity of losing like champions do, by trying until the end. Perhaps it stole a bit of dignity from the sport as well. It's a hard thing to say because I can't do what he can but that's just how I see it. Of course he must have been overwhelmed with disappointment, the one scenario he wasn't prepared for, but you have to finish. To be too certain is a dangerous emotion and it leaves us empty when we realize our beliefs were misplaced.

We want our hero's to demonstrate courage in winning and losing. That is what it means to be a champion; to face adversity and return with a renewed vigor, not a broken spirit. Why was Affirmed so great? Because he was measured against Alydar, also a true champion, who came back to fight every fight and never lost tenacity! I wonder what the heart of Big Brown is feeling now? As much as I believed he would win I was ambivalent about BB because I didn't think he was the right horse, in the right circumstances with the right credentials to be the one. But I will be rooting for him to rebound and go out and prove that he is a champion, I want to see him have that opportunity.

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