Triple Crown Hopeful Loses in Belmont Upset

By Grupp, John | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 8, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Triple Crown Hopeful Loses in Belmont Upset

Grupp, John, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

ELMONT, N.Y. -- A foregone conclusion turned into head-shaking disbelief in the Belmont Stakes.

Maybe it was the quarter crack in his front left hoof. Maybe it was the sweltering heat. Or the grueling Triple Crown schedule or the trainer's decision to not use steroids.

Whatever the reason, the dreams of another can't-miss, sure- thing Triple Crown hopeful were left on the dirt oval at Belmont Park when undefeated Big Brown had the worst race of his life in the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday afternoon.

Nick Zito-trained Da' Tara, the longest shot on the board at 38- 1, became the first wire-to-wire winner in 23 years and denied the sport a Triple Crown winner for the 30th year in a row.

"I think I'm numb," Big Brown jockey Kent Desormeaux said. "I'm a little lost."

Big Brown - sent off as a 3-10 favorite, the shortest-price since Spectacular Bid in 1979 - finished last in a field of nine in one of the most stunning results in Triple Crown history.

As the fourth-largest crowd in Belmont history looked on in shock, Big Brown was eased by Desormeaux at the top of the stretch. About 15 seconds after the rest of the 3-year-olds had hit the wire, Big Brown, who had dominated all five of his previous races, crossed the 1 1/2-mile race in a slow, awkward gallop.

Never before had a horse with designs on the Triple Crown finished last in the Belmont.

"Right now," Big Brown trainer Rick Dutrow said, "we're trying to figure out what happened in the race."

Da' Tara, ridden by Alan Garcia and owned by Robert LaPenta, paid $79 to win and triggered massive trifecta and superfecta payouts. The son of Tiznow had finished 23 1/2 lengths behind Big Brown in the Florida Derby nine weeks ago.

It is the second time in four years that Zito has stopped a Triple Crown hopeful, following Birdstone's victory over Smarty Jones in 2004.

Denis of Cork, the second choice at 7-1, finished second, 5 1/4 lengths back, followed by a dead-heat for third between Anak Nakal, another Zito trainee, and Todd Pletcher-trained Ready's Echo 2 three- quarters lengths behind.

It marked the seventh time in the past 12 years that the Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner lost in the Belmont and extended the streak without a Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

"If Big Brown was himself, he would have been tough to beat," Zito said. "But he wan't himself.

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