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The Question Remains: What Happened To Big Brown?

The morning after the Belmont Stakes, Big Brown
stopped to pose for photographers as if he had won the Triple
Crown. Everyone except the horse knew otherwise.
Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. was a no-show, leaving questions and few
answers about what happened to Big Brown in Saturday's 1½-mile
Belmont. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was eased up by
jockey Kent Desormeaux in the stretch, ending up last, beaten by
eight other horses.
The bay colt faced the cameras alone Sunday, except for exercise
rider Michelle Nevin - and she wasn't talking.
Outwardly, Big Brown appeared no worse for wear. He got his
morning bath outside Barn 2, playfully nipping at a leather lead
held by Nevin. Then she led him in circles around the inside of the
barn, with Big Brown walking perfectly on his patched left front
hoof.
Co-owner Michael Iavarone said Big Brown had a thorough
examination after the race and again Sunday morning.
"There's nothing physically that's shown up," he said,
speaking by cell phone from his daughter's soccer game on Long
Island. "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."
Iavarone said Big Brown's problem feet, other than a loose left
hind shoe, were not an issue.
"We're perplexed," he said. "Nobody can figure this one
out."
Without any obvious answers, it might take blood work and
diagnostic testing, including X-rays, to figure out Big Brown's
poor performance.
Dutrow was criticized after acknowledging he used an anabolic
steroid on Big Brown, then said last week that the horse hadn't had
a dose of Winstrol since April. It's known to increase appetite and
promote weight gain and healing. The drug is legal in the three
states where the Triple Crown races are run.
"I doubt if that comes up to be the answer," Larry Bramlage,
the on-call veterinarian, said after the race. "It's not that kind
of situation where it's going to be a stimulant for him. The
anabolic steroids keeps him eating and keeps him happy and keeps
him aggressive, all of which he showed all week long."
Horse racing's national regulatory authority has proposed a
steroid ban, and so far 10 states have adopted it. It's under
consideration in 11 others.
"By this time next year, steroids will be banned from horse
racing competition," Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive
of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said Sunday. "The
Big Brown campaign only underscores the need to act to ensure the
safety of the horses and to remove any suspicion concerning steroid
involvement with our stars."
Big Brown was running on a quarter crack in his left front hoof
that wasn't patched until Friday, but Dutrow insisted all last week
that it was a "non-issue."
Nevertheless, it cost the colt three days of training between
the Preakness and the Belmont. Big Brown wasn't trained very hard
leading up to the longest and toughest of the three classics,
either.
Desormeaux said afterward that Big Brown "was in no way, shape
or form lame or sore."
On the advice of Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, Dutrow had
said he was going to reduce Big Brown's dose of electrolytes, which
are salts such as sodium, chloride and potassium that help prevent
dehydration. It wasn't clear whether he followed through on that
plan before the Belmont.
Dutrow didn't immediately return a phone message left Sunday by
The Associated Press.
Big Brown ran on Lasix, a legal anti-bleeding medication that
can cause a horse to become dehydrated. Highs were in the 90s and
there was oppressive humidity Saturday. Several horses throughout
the day were sweating excessively and needed to be cooled off with
buckets of water and sprayed with hoses after they ran.
Iavarone said that unless something shows up, Big Brown will
maintain his training schedule and be pointed toward the Travers
Stakes in August at Saratoga.
"I love this horse," he said. "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."
Big Brown, of course, is worth millions to Iavarone and his
other two owners. They've already locked up an estimated $50
million deal for his breeding rights with Three Chimneys Farm in
Kentucky.
Like everyone else, rival trainer Nick Zito could see that Big
Brown didn't show up on racing's biggest stage.
"He wasn't making his move," said Zito, who saddled 38-1 long
shot Da' Tara to a 5¼-length upset. "Especially the way Ricky
talks, I knew I was in pretty good shape."
Dutrow had spent the five weeks between the Derby and Belmont
bragging about Big Brown's superiority and telling everyone how
weak the competition was. He proclaimed that it was "a foregone
conclusion" his colt would win the Belmont and become racing's
first Triple Crown winner in 30 years.
"I saw why he said that in the Derby and the Preakness," Zito
said. "He knew he had something on his hands that was really
tremendous."
In a sport built on baloney, no one dished it better than
Dutrow. But his bluster came back to bite him.
"If I could give him one thing that he could change, just don't
say anything about the horse," Zito said. "Say something about me
or somebody else or whatever. But don't say nothing about the other
horses, because that will get you in trouble."
Casino Drive, the Japanese horse considered to be Big Brown's
main rival, was scratched the morning of the Belmont because of a
bruised left hind hoof.
"He looks OK. He's still not 100 percent," said Nobutaka Tada,
racing manager for the colt's owner and trainer. "He's being
careful when he steps. He's getting well, but we have to be
careful."
Tada said undefeated Casino Drive would be put on a 14-hour
flight back to Japan on Tuesday, and likely return in the fall to
run in the Breeders' Cup Classic in California, where steroids are
outlawed.
"I hope many people here remember Casino Drive," Tada said.
Dutrow may be hoping for the same thing about vanquished Big
Brown.


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