The undefeated record and aura of invincibility are gone. And the temptation to simply retire an undefeated Triple Crown winner now gives way to a tough decision for Big Brown's owners: Keep the colt in training and hope to race him back to superstar status or retire him with the "just-missed" reputation shared by so many other greats.
With no early indications of any physical problems behind his perplexing misadventure in the Belmont, it seems likely Big Brown now will seek a return to superstar status against Curlin and other top older horses from around the world in the Breeders' Cup Classic this fall at Santa Anita. The Travers at Saratoga, against 3-year-olds, is the likely intermediate stop.
Meanwhile, what happed in the Belmont?
"Something has to not be right for him to be pulled up in a race," said trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. "So I have to try to find out what it is. I'm sure it's not the horse's fault, so there's no reason to be down on him."
Jockey Kent Desormeaux put Big Brown right where he wanted to be early in the race. Breaking from the rail, Desormeaux wrestled the Kentucky-bred son of Boundary to the outside of pace-setter Da' Tara and let him track the lead. But after the long run down the Belmont Park backstretch, the favorite was done.
"I was keeping an eye on the horse in front and thought, 'Okay, let's engage and let's at least keep him honest.' And I was done. I had no horse."
Dutrow said he saw nothing wrong with Big Brown when he got him back to the barn. Veterinarians said they saw no overt problems. Potential excuses include the 90-degree heat in Elmont, N.Y., and a patched crack on Big Brown's hoof.
If it's something more serious, Big Brown may prove to have been a shooting star across the racing firmament.
"If we're sure he is 100 percent getting back into training, we'll go forward with him," Dutrow said. But, he added, "If not, I'm sure we'll just do the next thing, which is to retire him."
Sunday morning, Michael Iavarone, representing the owning syndicate, said nothing physically wrong with the colt had turned up and "unless something shows up in the next couple of days," Big Brown will be trained up to the Travers Stakes on Aug. 23 at Saratoga.
As Big Brown was eased to finish last, Da' Tara just kept running, extending his lead in the stretch to win by 5 1/4 lengths in the relatively slow time of 2:29.65 under Alan Garcia. Denis of Cork was second and Anak Natal and Ready's Echo dead-heated for third.
Da' Tara is trained by Nick Zito, who sent out Birdstone to spoil Smarty Jones's Triple Crown bid four years ago.
Da' Tara, a Kentucky-bred son of Tiznow, came into the race with only one previous win and finished 23 1/2 lengths behind Big Brown in the Florida Derby.
"You can't take anything for granted in this business," Zito said. "You've got to thank your lucky stars and, you know, we're blessed.
"Of course, if Big Brown was himself, he would have been tough to beat. But he wasn't himself. That's why they play the game."
In other races with potential implications for the classic races further along the calendar:
-- Delosvientos shot quickly to the lead in Friday's $200,000 Brooklyn Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park, opened up a big lead and coasted home first, winning by 2 lengths over Evening Attire. Angliana was third. Delosvientos, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Siphon, ran the 1 1/2 miles on a fast track in 2:30.96 under Eibar Coa. "He's been great ever since he won his maiden," aid Giussepe Iadisernia Jr., son and assistant to the winning trainer. "He runs his race every time. Once he's in front, he's fine."
-- True Metropolitan took the early lead in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Eclipse Stakes, was headed midway around and then drew off again to win by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Sterwins. Good and Lucky, after pressing the pace, settled for third. True Metropolitan, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred Proud and True gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.59. James McAleney rode for trainer Terry Jordan. "He's just a great horse," Jordan said. "He seems better this year than last year."
Zaftig reeled in pace-setting favorite Indian Blessing in the stretch run in Saturday's $250,000 Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park, then drew clear easily to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Game Face was another 17 1/4 lengths back in third and it was another 13 3/4 lengths back to Golden Doc A, who completed the order of finish. Dance Gal Dance was a late scratch. Zaftig, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Gone West, ran the 1 mile in 1:34.5 despite stumbling at the start and having jockey John Velazquez lose his whip in the stretch. James Jerkens trains the gray filly. She now has three wins from five starts. Indian Blessing, undefeated last year and an Eclipse Award winner, now has finished second twice in a row for trainer Bob Baffert. "I think she can go farther," Jerkens said. "There are a lot of great races for 3-year-old fillies out there." Baffert said Indian Blessing just refused to relax. "She's just so fast … She's like, 'Point me in the right direction and I'll give it to you.' You can't be mad at her for what she's done. We're disappointed but we're not disgusted."
Lethal Heat came from just off the pace in Sunday's $150,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks, got to the lead in the stretch and held off Smooth Performer in the final yards to win by a head. Tasha's Miracle was only a nose farther back in third after pressing the pace all the way. Lethal Heat, a California-bred daughter of Unusual Heat, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43 with Rafael Bejarano up for trainer Barry Abrams. The favorite, Million Dollar Run, finished fourth.
Ginger Brew, near the back of the pack early in Sunday's $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, rallied nicely on the turn and jetted off in the stretch to win by 6 lengths over Victory Romance. Authenicat finished third Ginger Brew, a daughter of Milwaukee Brew, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.4. Javier Castellano had the mount for trainer Brian Lynch. The race was restricted to Ontario-bred fillies.
Benny the Bull, fresh from victory in the Dubai Golden Shaheen and riding a three-race winning streak, was just up in time to win Saturday's $250,000 True North Handicap at Belmont Park by a neck over pace-setting Man of Danger. Abraaj, an improving Shadwell Stable runner, was just another neck back in third. Benny the Bull, a 5-year-old son of Lucky Lionel, came five-wide around the traffic at the quarter pole with a well-timed ride by Edgar Prado to snatch the win. The Florida-bred hasn't lost since finishing fourth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Sprint. Like Big Brown, he is trained by Richard Dutrow Jr. for an ownership team that also includes IEAH Stables. "I wasn't concerned about him coming into the race off his Dubai win," said Dutrow, "because he had been training so well. I was more concerned with him at the eighth pole, that he wouldn't win. We let him run his own race and he got up there just in time." He said he hasn't yet plotted out the horse's campaign for the rest of the year.
J Be K set a pressured pace early in Saturday's $250,000 Woody Stephens Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park, then took complete charge at the top of the stretch and drew off to win by 5 1/2 lengths over Silver Edition. True Quality finished third. J Be K, a Kentucky-bred colt by Silver Deputy, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:21.85 under Garrett Gomez. Trainer Steve Asmussen had the colt on the Kentucky Derby trail earlier in the year but set his sights shorter after an eighth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby. Since, he has won the Bay Shore Handicap at 7 furlongs and finished second in the Withers, at 1 mile, both at Aqueduct. "If he stays healthy, he'll be back in Saratoga for the King's Bishop," said winning owner Ahmed Zayat.
Rebellion got a slow start in Saturday's $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap at Hollywood Park, advanced wide on the turn to take the lead in deep stretch and win by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Tropic Storm. Stoneside was third. Rebellion, coming off a narrow victory in the Commonwealth Handicap at Keeneland, finished the 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:27.68. Rafael Bejarano rode for trainer H. Graham Motion. Possibly looking forward to the Breeders' Cup on Santa Anita's synthetic surface, assistant trainer Alice Clapham said, "He's a good traveler and we just wanted to bring him over here and see how he would take to coming over. Obviously, it suited him very well."
Dancing Forever saved ground near the rear of the field in Saturday's $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap, moved up on the turn and outfinished the other late runners to win by a nose. Out of Control was second, 1/2 length ahead of Pays to Dream. Dancing Forever, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Rahy, ran the 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:59.62 for Rene Douglas. Shug McGaughey trains the Phipps Stable homebred. Earlier this year, Dancing Forever finished second by a neck to Einstein in the Gulfstream Park Turf, then won the Elkhorn at Keeneland. Overall, the improving-with-age chestnut horse now has five wins from 19 starts.
Artiste Royal finished eighth in the Japan Cup last fall and hadn't won in three starts since then leading up to Saturday's $300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park. That record of futility ended as the 7-year-old, Irish-bred son of Danehill rallied to win by a neck over Monzante with seemingly eternal Lava Man just a another nose back in third. Artiste Royal, with David Flores riding for trainer Neil Drysdale, finished the 1 1/4 miles on firm going in 1:59.99. "He's always had excuses," Drysdale said of Artiste Royal's losses. "We haven't run him that many times … We're looking at the Arlington Million and maybe use the Eddie Read as a prep, because it fits." Lava Man's trainer, Doug O'Neill, said he "loved it" that his horse, who hasn't won since the Hollywood Gold Cup a year ago, ran so well. "Obviously we wanted to win but … now as the weights get a little more level, hopefully that will be the missing link." He said defending the Gold Cup crown later this month is in the plans.
Gio Ponti rallied from last of seven to win Friday's $100,000 Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park by 2 lengths over Prussian. Moral Compass was third and the favorite, Hatta Fort, settled for fourth after a slow start. Gio Ponti, a Kentucky-bred colt by Tale of the Cat, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.03. Garrett Gomez had the mount for trainer Christophe Clement.
Ventura rallied first along the rail in Saturday's $400,000 Just a Game Stakes at Belmont Park and won by 3/4 length over Lady of Venice, who followed along the inside path. The longest shot on the board, Forever Together, rallied from last to finish third. Ventura, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Chester House, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:32.75 with Garrett Gomez up for trainer Bobby Frankel. Frankel said before the race his filly would appreciate the one-turn mile as she came off a third-place finish in her last start at Churchill Downs. The filly now has three wins from four starts since coming to the United States from England after last season. "I thought the one-turn mile would help her," Frankel said. "I think the way the course was soft last time, they stayed in the same spot all the way around. Next? Maybe the Cash Call." Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said the Cash Call or the Diana will be next for Lady of Venice.
Misty Ocean picked her third straight win and her first graded stakes victory in Saturday's $175,000 Honeymoon Handicap for 3-year-old fillies. After leading most of the way, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Stormy Atlantic was headed by Sweeter Still in the stretch run but came back to win by 3/4 length. Bel Air Sizzle ran well late to take second from Sweeter Still by 3/4 length. Misty Ocean, with Joel Rosario up for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.56. "I don't know if we'll get invited to the American Oaks or not," Hollendorfer said, "but I'd like to at least look at that."
Around the tracks:
The final leg of the 2008 Asian Mile Challenge went to Vodka, who charged to a 3 1/2-lengths victory over Armada in Sunday's Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo Racecourse. The victory was the first in more than a year for the Japanese filly, who won last year's Japanese Derby. She has, however, been running in top company and came into Sunday's race off a fourth-place finish in the Dubai Duty free in March. The first leg of the Challenge, the Futurity Stakes at Melbourne, went to Niconero. Jay Peg won the second leg in the Dubai Duty Free. Good Ba Ba, winner of the third leg, the Champions Mile at Sha Tin in Hong Kong, was gunning for a $1 million bonus in the Yasuda Kinen but, bothered in traffic, finished 17th of 18 starters.
Passified stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Redondo Beach Stakes for fillies and mares, took over the lead from pace-setting La Tee with a sixteenth to run and won by 3/4 length over that rival. Fleet Caroline was third. Passified, a 4-year-old, British-bred Compton Place filly, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.18 under Mike Smith.
Dancer's Bajan stalked the pace in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Steady Growth Stakes, got the lead with a furlong to run and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Archers Alyancer. Yummy With Butter finished third. Dancer's Bajan, a 4-year-old Trajectory gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.41. The race was restricted to progeny of horses standing in Ontario.
In Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Victoria Park Stakes for 3-year-olds, Secret Getaway let Catch Air catch a lot of air early on the led, then came and caught him at the end, winning by 3/4 length. Discreet Commander finished third, 3 1/2 lengths farther back. Secret Getaway, a Kentucky-bred colt by Skip Away, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.11 under Emma-Jayne Wilson.
Also Sunday, Passion rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win the $100,000 (Canadian) Alywow Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 5 1/4 lengths over Lickety Lemon. Clear the Ice finished third. Passion, a Kentucky-bred Came Home filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:14.39 under Javier Castellano. Todd Pletcher trains the filly.
Lone Star Park
Lyin' Heart got off to a troubled start in Saturday's $100,000 TTA Sales Futurity for 2-year-old colts and geldings, hustled toward the leaders on the turn and took charge in the stretch, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over pace-setting Belton. Justwill finished third and Call West completed the superfecta -- all four trained by Steve Asmussen. Lyin' Heart, a Kentucky-bred colt by Lion Heart, ran the 5 furlongs in 58.41 seconds under Quincy Hamilton.
In the companion event for juvenile fillies, also worth $100,000, Bridesmaid wore the white dress, coming from off the pace to win by a neck over Lightlightlight with Truly Lucky third. Asmussen, having a good night, saddled the top two. Bridesmaid, a Texas-bred filly by Valid Expectations, ran the 5 furlongs in 58.63 seconds with Justin Shepherd in the irons.
Golden Gate Fields
Wild Promises led every step of the way to a 1 1/2-lengths victory in Sunday's $75,000 Yerba Buena Stakes for fillies and mares. Solva was second and Model finished third. Wild Promises, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred filly by Wild Event, got the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:17.28 under David Lopez.
Major Rhythm caught pace-setting Rumor Has It entering the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Rossi Gold Stakes, then held well to win by 1/2 length. A game Rumor Has It held on for second and Telling was third. Major Rhythm, a 9-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Rhythm, ran the 1 3/16 miles on "good" turf in 1:59.06. Trey Agilar rode for trainer Doug Matthews.
Prospective Kiss took charge in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 Brooks Fields Stakes and drew off to win by 3 lengths over Switzerland. Heza Wild Guy was third. Prospective Kiss, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Prospect Bay, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.66 under Derek Bell.
Oelectra opened up a comfortable lead in Saturday's $50,000 Whimsical Stakes for fillies and mares and held on to win by a neck over the favorite, Circuit Breaker. Acinonyx was well back in third. Oelectra, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Gulch mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.27 under Rosie Napravnik.
Indy Wind blew past the early leaders at the quarter pole in Saturday's $70,000 Frisk Me Now Stakes and gusted off to win by 7 1/2 lengths over Buffalo Man. Judiths Wild Rush finished third. Indy Wind, a 6-year-old A.P. Indy gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:39.52 under Stewart Elliott.
Beau Dare pushed the pace in Saturday's $60,000 Candy Eclair Stakes for fillies and mares, then won the sprint to the wire, scoring by a neck over Anofficerandalady. Lizzierna finished third. Beau Dare, a 5-year-old Military mare, finished the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:03.12 under Stewart Elliott.
In Sunday's $70,000 Longfellow Stakes, Mr. Umphrey got to the lead entering the stretch and held on to win by 1/2 length over Maddy's Lion. Callmetony was third. Mr. Umphrey, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred Jules gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.41 with Eddie Castro up.
Rosinka led from gate to wire in Saturday's $75,000 John W. Rooney Memorial Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 3/4 length over Royalties. Shytoe Lafeet finished third. Roskinka, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Soviet Star, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:52.29. Kendrick Carmouche rode.
Shadowbdancing upset Saturday night's $50,000 Prairie Mile Stakes for 3-year-olds, pressing the pace, surging to the lead on the turn and then gamely holding on to win by a neck over Maya's Storm. Acting Zippy was third. Shadowbdancing, a Florida-bred colt by Montbrook, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.87 with Joel Campbell up.
Rasierra, the odds-on favorite, stalked the pace in the companion $50,000 Panthers Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, gained the advantage entering the stretch and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Day of Victory with Timely Reflection third. Rasierra, a Kentucky-bred Kafwain filly, got the 1 mile in 1:35.49 under Shane Laviolette.
Victorina took the lead with a furlong and a half to run in Sunday's $50,000 Washington State Legislators Handicap for fillies and mares and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Beaulena with Shampoo an additional 4 lengths back in third. Victorina, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Delaware Township, got the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.40 toting Kevin Radke
The entire four-horse field paraded around the track without changing position in Saturday night's $75,000 Slipton Fell Handicap. Bernie Blue led all the way to win by 3 3/4 lengths over I'm Waiting for U. M B Sea ran third all the way, ahead of Born to Tango. Bernie Blue, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Bernstein, finished the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:43.36 with Deshawn Parker in the irons.
Spaghetti Mouse stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 John Longden 6000 Stakes, got the lead on the turn and went on to win by 1/2 length over Bank Emblem. Sir Gallovic finished third. Spaghetti Mouse, a British Columbia-bred gelding by Archers Bay, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.62 with Pedro Alvarado aboard.
Miss Missile got quickly to the front in Sunday's $50,000 Chantilly Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and kept extending the margin to a 9 3/4-lengths victory over Lunacat. Queen Tina finished third. Miss Missile, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Golden Missile, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11 with Rohan Singh in the irons.
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