The Lessons of Big Brown

By Zirin, Dave | The Progressive, August 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Lessons of Big Brown

Zirin, Dave, The Progressive

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?


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.

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