Kent Desormeaux aptly described his mount, Big Brown, as a very intellectual horse. Many outside the horse world would scoff at such an assertion, but those who deal with horses everyday know that some horses have a certain quality that sets them apart from their peers. The most glaring example of this, in my opinion, was Barbaro.
Take the Preakness. Barbaro was a generally level-headed horse. He didn’t fight in training or in races, but simply did what was asked of him and usually complied with whatever he was asked to do. He didn’t get really riled up before races, but took everything in stride, handling his races like a veteran. On Preakness day, however, he did a very unBarbarolike thing, and broke through the gate prematurely.
Now, this is where my speculation comes in. The facts are that he was an athlete at the top of his game, and was so fit and ready that perhaps he simply reacted too quickly and made an honest mistake. However, I think that just as animals can sense oncoming natural disaster, Barbaro knew something was amiss. I honestly doubt that he had any sort of lameness or injury coming into that race. I don’t even think he hurt himself breaking early. What I do believe is that he could sense that something was wrong, that some bad thing awaited him out on that long stretch of track. If my theory is correct, he probably became agitated, jumpy, and perhaps he impulsively leapt forward, unsure of his sense of foreboding.
Dramatic, I know. Essentially, only Prado could have felt these things, and in reality these reactions would have occurred so quickly-in a matter of milliseconds-that he would have had no way of knowing if Barbaro was upset or merely eager.
This example can segway into today’s Belmont. Something was wrong with Big Brown, no matter what the vets say. Now, there may be nothing physically wrong with the horse, yet no one who saw that race can legitimately state that the horse is perfectly fine. No horse can plausibly come off two major easy wins to struggle home last in their next start.
First, Big Brown was rank in the stretch, fighting Desormeaux and slashing about with an uneven stride. He may have been struggling with the track, but whatever forces Big Brown was up against, they made his stride choppy and forceful, and he never really got into a rhythm. He darted right, his entire body convulsing in the effort, his head up and shaking. He was boxed in for a few strides, and then Kent steered him out of the pack and into a clear spot going into the turn.
Along the backstretch, Big Brown sat third, far outside and stumbling along. There was just something strange about the way he ran. It was as if for the first time in his life, he had to work to run. The long, gliding strides he flaunted in previous races were suddenly gone, and now he chopped away at the huge Belmont oval, Da’ Tara floating along in the lead. Coming into the far turn, the back of the pack began to bunch up behind Big Brown, and instead of blowing away from them, he stayed put, seemingly frozen in time. They swarmed around him, engulfed him, and left him behind.
Kent urged Big Brown on with his body, then his hands, but never went to the whip. He got no response. As the field drifted away, he knew there was no hope. He sat up and took a hold of Big Brown’s mouth. Whatever had happened, he knew he shouldn’t push the horse, and he eased him up and cantered home. Big Brown fought him at first, his head shaking wildly again, but even then his stride was more up and down then long and low, and his legs flailed about. He finally submitted and cantered out, tail flagging.
Had Big Brown subconsciously sensed some impending danger? Probably not, but one does wonder if perhaps he received some vibe that today was not his day, and that perhaps such a “thought” consumed his mind, taking his focus off running. As of Saturday afternoon, he was not lame and considered fine, yet something made Big Brown falter, and Kent Desormeaux did the absolutely right thing by listening to his horse.
Kent’s actions may have prevented a tragedy. Pushing Big Brown could have upset some internal balance and caused another racing tragedy. The death of Barbaro was tragic, the death of Eight Belles even more so. The death of Big Brown would have split the racing world wide open and maybe even permanently crippled it. On the other hand, Big Brown could have simply been overcome by the heat and been jostled around in the first stretch, causing him to become a bit sour and unwilling to exert himself. It’s all how you view it.
History was made today, just not in the way so many had hoped. An unknown New York challenger burst out of the gate, made the lead, and never looked back. Big Brown provided the world with a dramatic and memorable loss. His greatness was never really proved, and with luck, he’ll be back on the track later this summer, proving himself against tougher competition. Only then will we know the true reaches of his ability.
Most of all, Kent Desormeaux did a great service to the racing world. By pulling up Big Brown, he showed us all that this sport is not centered on money, greed, or words, but on the horse. It is the horse that lofts the dreams, hopes, and lives of the entire racing microcosm over the mighty racecourses of the world. For this, the horse must be prized above all, cared for above all, and protected above all. Kent is a true horseman, for he realizes that this great sport of kings is about the horses, and the dreams that those horses foster.