ELMONT, N.Y. -- One year later, Kent Desormeaux still has no regrets.
With the world anticipating Thoroughbred racing's first Triple Crown winner in 30 years, Desormeaux pulled up the undefeated Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown with a quarter-mile remaining in last year's Belmont Stakes and simply galloped the 1-5 favorite to the wire. Obviously, something went amiss with Big Brown, but to this day no one is really certain exactly what.
What Desormeaux is certain of, however, is that he did the right thing.
"I slept like a baby that night," Desormeaux, the 39-year-old Hall of Famer, said Saturday. "I think what I did had a lot to do with the horse's future success. Obviously, there was the opinion it could have been done differently, but hindsight is 20-20. The situation I was in, I thought I needed to do what I did and I haven't had any remorse."
The Belmont proved to be the only loss in Big Brown's career. After the Triple Crown series, Big Brown won the Haskell Invitational on dirt and the Monmouth Stakes on turf before a significant hoof injury prevented him from running in the Breeders' Cup Classic and hastened his retirement.
Desormeaux reflected on last year's Belmont on the same morning that he got acquainted with Summer Bird, his mount for this year's 141st Belmont, to be run next Saturday at Belmont Park. On Saturday morning, Desormeaux guided Summer Bird through a five-furlong workout in 1:01.67, according to Daily Racing Form, getting his final quarter in 24.11 seconds.
"I thought he handled the track fantastically, it was an energetic work," Desormeaux said of Summer Bird. "I was thrilled to have him come off the track with more energy than he went out there with. He's fit and ready, and he's a healthy and happy horse."
Looking back to last year, Desormeaux said it was quickly evident the Big Brown he rode in the Belmont was not the happy, healthy horse he had ridden to dominant victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Desormeaux said that in the Belmont every time he asked Big Brown to go faster, the horse would slow down.
"To me, he was telling me he was stressed out about something," Desormeaux said. "My horsemanship senses told me something was really bothering him. I was going to pull him up and stop him, but during the millisecond I started to stop him I said, he's not broke down, I don't want the public to think he's broke down. I stopped him and I allowed him to gallop through the wire and then turned him around as a normal horse might have."
Desormeaux went on to say that the 1998 Belmont, in which he missed winning the Triple Crown aboard Real Quiet by a nose, haunts him more than last year's Belmont.
"I'd like to do that again," Desormeaux said. "But I'm going to tell you the same thing: I slept well that night, too. ... I'm just thrilled to try and chalk up a Belmont; it is one that has eluded me. I haven't checked that off yet. My career is void of that."
Desormeaux, who is 0 for 6 in the Belmont, will be riding Summer Bird for trainer Tim Ice, who worked as an assistant trainer to Kent's brother Keith for five years.
"For me, this is a house horse," Desormeaux said. "Tim worked shoulder-to-shoulder with my brother, and I am thrilled to have the mount for him."
Ice was thrilled with the way Summer Bird worked Saturday compared with the colt's seven-furlong move in 1:26.40 on May 24. Ice did not think his horse handled the track that day.
"A hundred-percent better," said Ice, who has equipped Summer Bird with toe grabs behind. "He looked a lot better coming down the lane, getting a hold of the track. [He] finished the last quarter a lot stronger, just galloped out very strong; overall, he looks super. I thought it was a good work."
Zito pair put in final Belmont works
Shortly after Summer Bird finished his move, the Nick Zito-trained duo of Brave Victory and Miner's Escape got their final breezes in. The pair went four furlongs together in 48.55 seconds.
Last week, Miner's Escape worked on the inside of Brave Victory. Saturday, Miner's Escape was on the outside under Eddie Cruz and appeared to work better. Rajiv Maragh worked Brave Victory.
"I don't think you can plan on anything so dramatic or try to do something so differently to make yourself feel like you're going to win the Belmont Stakes," said Zito, who won last year's Belmont Stakes with 38-1 shot Da' Tara. "It's the horses that win the Belmont Stakes. I'm just there to hang out with them."