Commentary

Trainer Dutrow eats crow after Big Brown busts at Belmont

Updated: June 8, 2008, 2:56 AM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

ELMONT, N.Y. -- How now, Brown Crown?

How now, Rick Dutrow, do you explain the biggest bust since Morganna the Kissing Bandit?

How now does it feel to be the freshly humbled fool of thoroughbred racing, after your waltz to the Triple Crown turned into a disaster, a last-place finish, a Brownout? How now do you justify all the obnoxious bragging about your horse, Big Brown? How now do you possibly answer for having flagrantly disrespected the difficulty of the task before you?

You remember, babe: Winning the Belmont and the first Triple Crown in 30 years was a "foregone conclusion." You dismissed the field by saying, "These horses just cannot run with Big Brown." You envisioned winning this race "by daylight, easily. I just don't see no dogfight in this race."

It might not have been a dogfight. But there was one dog in the race: the Brown Bomber. This was the worst performance by a Brown since W. told Mike he was doing a heck of a job handling Katrina.

When it was over and Big Brown had been eased by jockey Kent Desormeaux while long shot Da' Tara won wire-to-wire, the disbelief at the mammoth old track was palpable. Dutrow walked with the colt back to the stable area with his blue shirt plastered to his skin. It was the definition of flop sweat.

The cocky trainer, who had all the answers for five weeks, had none. If bettors had a dollar for every time Dutrow said, "I don't know" when he finally talked to the media Saturday evening, they might have won back everything they lost on Big Brown.

The only thing he did know is that he doesn't regret all the prerace smugness.

[+] EnlargeBig Brown
Al Bello/Getty ImagesBig Brown, the biggest Belmont favorite since Spectacular Bid in 1979, flamed out in stunning fashion, with Kent Desormeaux easing him up coming out of the second turn.
"I just went by what I was feeling," Dutrow said. "I'm sure that didn't get him beat or have him pull up."

No, talking trash didn't get Big Brown beat. But it came back to smack Dutrow in his fresh mouth when the foregone conclusion fell apart.

Make no mistake, a lot of people in the racing game enjoyed seeing Dutrow and the slickster owners from IEAH Stables go down in ignominious fashion. Dutrow has a long list of medication infractions, and it came out in recent weeks that IEAH front man Michael Iavarone was fined and suspended himself for making unauthorized penny stock trades on Wall Street. They weren't the most lovable group to dally with the Triple Crown.

But beyond that was the simple lack of tact that characterized this campaign.

Someone asked trainer David Carroll, whose Denis of Cork finished second, whether he felt bad about helping spoil a Triple Crown.

"No, I don't," Carroll said. "Not one little bit. There's a right way and a wrong way. You win with class and you lose with class.

"Basically what [Dutrow] has been saying is, [Denis of Cork] is a P.O.S. And he isn't. He rubbed me the wrong way."

The biggest Belmont favorite since Spectacular Bid in 1979 (he went off at 3-10) flamed out in stunning fashion Saturday, with Desormeaux easing him up coming out of the second turn and into the stretch. That's normally the sign of a horse in distress, and anxiety exploded through the Belmont grandstand at the sight of Big Brown being pulled out of contention.

After the Eight Belles trauma at the Kentucky Derby five weeks earlier, the sight of a blooming hero being eased was more than many racing fans could bear -- among them Jill Baffert, wife of standout trainer Bob Baffert, who burst into tears while watching near the finish line. This could have been the knockout blow for racing.

Fortunately, Big Brown appears to be OK. Dutrow watched him intently on the dejected walk through the tunnel from the paddock to the stable area, and then spent about 40 minutes leaning on a sawhorse and watching Big Brown walk the shedrow at the security barn.

After checking out his colt, Dutrow could find nothing wrong. He'd heard secondhand about the TV reports saying Big Brown possibly was kicked when Desormeaux swung him wide off the rail going into the first turn, trying to escape the box opposing riders had put him in. He planned to have Big Brown's lungs scoped Sunday, but said there was no sign of a cough or other pulmonary problems.

[+] EnlargeRick Dutrow
Stan Honda/Getty ImagesAll the trash talking Big Brown trainer Rick Dutrow did before Saturday's Belmont Stakes came back to bite him.
"I don't see a problem," Dutrow said, "and I looked for one."

Problem is, Dutrow never entertained the possibility of a problem during this Triple Crown run. Even after watching all the Triple Crown near-misses of recent years -- Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in '98, Charismatic in '99, War Emblem in 2002, Funny Cide in '03 and Smarty Jones in '04 -- he failed to absorb the singular truth of this three-race series:

It's incredibly hard to win. That's why it's been done just 11 times in the history of the sport. That's why great horses like Spectacular Bid and Point Given didn't get it done.

"I can't fathom what kind of freaks those 11 Triple Crown winners were," Desormeaux said.

But Dutrow thumbed his nose at history and talked like a guy who thought he knew better than everyone else.

The training time missed after suffering a quarter crack in his left front hoof? Not a problem.

The third race in five weeks, against fresher rivals? Not a problem.

The possible tactics employed to make this race the roughest of Big Brown's inexperienced life? Not a problem.

Dutrow, we had a problem. We don't know the answer right now and might never know, but it was obvious that this race had gone badly wrong for the previously unbeaten horse as they entered the far turn.

By then, Desormeaux was laying in third place behind pace-setter Da' Tara and Tale of Ekati through a moderate first three-quarters of a mile. That's when Desormeaux began working on Big Brown's neck, urging him forward, while Eibar Coa was sitting still atop Tale of Ekati.

And they weren't changing positions.

The push-button acceleration that made Big Brown's Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories memorable was missing. Desormeaux was working hard, and his colt was going nowhere. For whatever reason, Big Brown was done and the Triple Crown drought was extended yet again.

If anyone won -- beyond the remarkable Nick Zito, who now has foiled two straight Triple tries after upsetting Smarty Jones in 2004 -- it was racing itself.

True, it was a letdown for all the fans who turned out to see a coronation. And it was a maddening day for the fans who found many of the toilets at Belmont rendered inoperable -- lending new meaning to the racing slogan, "Go, Baby, Go!" But this was perhaps the ultimate proof that the Triple Crown must be approached with the utmost respect.

Dutrow and IEAH -- newcomers to this level of success -- ignorantly swaggered into their home turf of New York thinking they had it won. And they made a naked money grab along the way.

IEAH savvily coaxed a reported $50 million out of Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky for the breeding rights to Big Brown after his race career is over. (If anyone felt anywhere near as badly as Dutrow and Desormeaux Saturday night, it was Three Chimneys owner Robert Clay. You overpaid, Bob.)

The Big Brown camp plastered the UPS logo on Desormeaux's silks and the colt's saddle cloth. Dutrow showed up in the paddock for the Belmont wearing a hat flacking for the Trump Taj Mahal casino. And there was a deal with Hooters as well, but Belmont nixed the idea of having hotties in orange pants prancing through the paddock.

They turned the Belmont Stakes into a crass NASCAR race. Then blew an engine after guaranteeing victory.

The response from the New York crowd was part sympathy for the horse, part disdain for the people. Some fans booed and threw cups. Some cussed at Dutrow as he escorted the horse away from the track.

And somewhere -- wherever the racing gods live -- there was unabated laughter at this comeuppance. Karma's a bitch, babe, and so is the Triple Crown.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.