The Lessons of Big Brown

Article excerpt

Why did Big Brown go down? It's the question vexing the sports world, and, like trying to find a contact lens in a pile of horse manure, the more you look, the nastier it gets.

How did the three-year-old colt dominate the first two legs of horse racing's Triple Crown, only to flame out on the precipice of history? How does a horse, with ace jockey Kent Desormeaux holding the reins, win the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby going away, only to come in last at Belmont?

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The reasons coming out of the cloistered, corrupt world of horse racing are thinner than a jockey on Atkins. They point to a crack in Big Brown's left front hoof. They say, "The track might have been too deep for him." (Can a track be shallow?)

They remind us that the failure of Big Brown only demonstrates just how remarkably difficult it is to win the Triple Crown, how it has been done a mere eleven times in the last century, and hasn't happened in thirty years. Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., a man with an ego that makes George Steinbrenner look like a Buddhist, has blamed Desormeaux. In an utterly classless move, he said, "I don't want to hurt anyone, especially Kent. But . . . I don't see the horse with a problem, so I have to direct my attention toward the ride. That's all I can come up with."

Dutrow was clumsily trying to deflect attention from his own yammerings. Before Belmont, Dutrow bellowed to the press that Big Brown clinching the Triple Crown was a "foregone conclusion," which' now looks as prescient as Rupert Murdoch saying the Iraq War would make oil $20 a barrel.

So was it the hoof?. The track? The jockey? All of these reasons may contain an element of truth. But it's like saying Dick Cheney is a wonderful grandfather. Just because it's true doesn't mean it tells the whole story.

The truth lies in something more nefarious: the underworld of big-time horse racing and how these majestic animals are "prepared" for the big race.

Take the issue of that big bad bogeyman of Major League Baseball: anabolic steroids. For horses, steroids are as legal as sugar cubes in nearly thirty states, including--big surprise--Kentucky, Maryland, and New York, the three states that host the Triple Crown. Big Brown's bloodstream was an anabolic cocktail, with the steroid Winstrol being a regular part of his training regimen. When this became public, Dutrow ordered Big Brown to come off Winstrol in April, a public relations ploy to show that the colt could win the Belmont off the juice. …