Sunday, June 8, 2008

No Sure Things in Horse Racing

I really wasn't expecting Big Brown to win the Belmont, and thus become a Triple Crown champion. But I wasn't expecting him to finish dead last, either.

Call me a skeptic, but it just seemed like Big Brown's gallop into horse racing history was setting up too easily. The rival horses in the Belmont weren't a magnificent bunch. And then his trainer was gratingly over-confident. He had been quoted (way too many times) for saying that a Belmont victory, which would give the huge bay colt the Triple Crown, was "a foregone conclusion." Yet ultimately Big Brown was so out of gas at the head of the homestretch that his jockey pulled him up and cantered to the finish line.

At least he didn't start whacking the horse with his whip in a futile effort to make up an impossible amount of ground.

Speaking as a writer who's always looking for the fairy tale, somehow the magic just wasn't there. Big Brown wasn't surrounded by a funky posse of quirky characters. There weren't any poignant backstories about elderly owners looking for one last chance at horse racing fame. He wasn't the favorite colt of some blue-blooded Kentucky horsewoman. I didn't feel for him the way I did about Smarty Jones, Real Quiet or Funny Cide. I never had the thought, "Oh, wouldn't it be grand if Big Brown won the Triple Crown!"

When it came to wearing the horse shoes of a Made in Hollywood hero, Big Brown wasn't even in the same class as Secretariat, Affirmed or Seattle Slew.

Horses being horses, I'm not certain that we'll ever know why Big Brown went kaput in the Belmont. I've often believed that sometimes race horses just wake up and think, "Ya' know, today I'm just not in the racing mode." Maybe they have a headache. Maybe the grooms one aisle over kept the radio on too loud the night before. Maybe on the way to the post the lead pony gave off bad vibes. Whatever the reason, race horses are a fragile bunch, and that's not just in reference to their spindly legs. Some little thing can throw off their mojo, giving another horse-- a longshot who just happened to wake up feeling particularly zesty-- the opportunity to be King for a Day.

Click on "comments" below to share your thoughts and responses.


Anonymous said...

It may not be true but I have a feeling the race was rigged and someone with Big Brown was payed off. The owner has a history with drugs and put the horse on steriods, then suddenly take Big Brown off steriods. Why take him off steriods so suddenly and right before a big race? The jockey pulls Big Brown up because he didn't feel right and nothing is found wrong. Why didn't the jockey just let Big Brown keep galloping and maybe still come in 3rd or 4th? I sort of agree with him for doing it, but its not normal. I don't know if anyone else noticed, but at the end of the race Big Brown was still tossing his head and playing on the bit.

I understand it was hot and Big Brown didn't have the perfect race in the first part, but still I got the feeling something was being hidden from the public eye.

Anonymous said...

But race fixing is pretty much illegal today, and the owner wouldn't screw a HUGE chance of immortality by fixing the race and having his horse lose.

I was a bit disappointed with this year's crop of three year olds. Nobody really stood out. Who here LOVED Afleet Alex back in '05? Does anyone know how he's doing?

Anonymous said...

Gina, I am 15 and the first year I really watched the Kentucky Derby was 2005 and I LOVED Afleet Alex. Me and my mom had never really watched racing before, but we taped like 8 hours of ESPN to watch cause we don't have cable, and were very disappointed to find out the actual race was on NBC!

Anyway, I was very surprised to hear that a horse I hadn't even heard of (I wasn't really that into racing yet, although now I'm a diehard fan) had won--Giacomo! I only wish I could have seen the race, beings it was such a huge upset.

And of course it was awesome to see Alex win the Preakness and Belmont. The last I heard was that he has been at Gainesway Farm as a stud since he was retired, but I haven't heard much more than that.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it was fixed, I just think Big Brown was having an off day. Who knows, maybe he doesn't do well in the heat, or over longer distances. I just give kudos to Kent Desormeaux for not pushing him and saving his legs for a better day.

Anonymous said...

I just looked up Alex on wiki - they retired him because he came up a bit injured in his left fore (small fracture, I believe) and it eventually became a brittle patch. They think it's because he caught himself and then kept running in the Preakness. His first baby was born last year (2007) - a colt.

I also applaud Kent for pulling up. Sometimes you just can't force a horse to keep running - you shouldn't anyway, when the horse was running like Big Brown. I was watching the earlier part of the race and was like "He's fighting. He doesn't fight. Something's wrong." And he just gave a bad vibe while being tacked up and walking. He was TOO quiet. It's possible it's because of the heat. My horse's the same way. He usually bucks, plays, and dances his way through dressage tests, but last year we were showing at state and it was HOT and he was so quiet and sluggish the judge was like "You should look into some supplements for his energy level."

Cindy Hale said...

Interesting that Afleet Alex's name should come up, as he was definitely one of my favorites from recent years. I really got "into" the backstory of his owners and the lemonade stands that raised money for a children's charity. Now that makes for a good story!

And horse gal, you're not alone in wondering about some sort of shady deal going down. While I doubt that something like that actually occurred-- I mean, there were millions to be made if Big Brown had won the Triple Crown-- the trainer did make some outrageous claims and he does have a less than perfect record. But it does make you wonder... And again, it could make for a nifty episode of "Law & Order." Or, "CSI."

Anonymous said...

I am kinda starting to think that it had something to do with the steroids. I mean he was doing amazing, he was superbly impressive in how many lengths he won by in the other two races. and then they decide to take him off steroids and look at how poorly he did. I'm inclinded to think that that has something to do with it