Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Recognition: Big Brown, Great In His Own Right

As a two year old all he was, was, a little know, yet very impressive maiden winner, of his first start on the turf. Nobody would ever have guessed what he would go on to become in just the next year. At three years old he became one of the most brilliant and captivating horses racing has seen in recent years. He drew comparisons from sports writers, handicappers, and fans of the sport, saying he was the best since Spectacular Bid, whose trainer called him the best horse to ever look through a bridle. This young, upstart of a colt’s name was Big Brown.

I myself heard of him after he demolished a field of allowance horses, in a race moved off the turf onto the main track. He won by a margin just under 13 lengths. I remember reading that he, form there was going to be pointed towards America’s biggest race for thoroughbreds, the Kentucky Derby. Sports writers were saying that he could be another Curlin, who just last year went from a maiden winner, to Preakness winner, to Breeders Cup Classic winner, all in just eight months. No way, I thought, how can there possibly come along another horse that can equal what Curlin has accomplished. I looked up his maiden and allowance wins on Youtube, and after watching them all I could do is stare at the screen in pure amazement. This horse was going to become the next racing great.

I’ll fast forward to his next race, the Florida Derby. I was unable to see it live, though, as soon as they became available to see on the Internet I sat down to watch. Again I was just astounded at the ease in which I watched Big Brown over come the outside post, a death sentence a Gulfstream, go to the lead to set blistering fractions, and then pull away from the field like they were all standing still. No horse was supposed to be able to do these kinds of things. Despite this, I still went with the more battle tested and experienced, West Coast star Colonel John as my pick for the Derby. Well, I can say to that is how stupid of me was that.

On Derby day Big Brown again just demolished the field. Breaking from post twenty, out of twenty horses, Big Brown stayed right behind the lead group of horses, racing four to five wide the whole race. This all did not matter to Big Brown, because when the time came for him to run he exploded, bounding away from the field to become the first Derby winner since Regret in 1915 to win the Derby off of just three career starts. He also became only the second horse to win from the post position twenty, the last to do that was in 1929. What makes this win all the more impressive is that he completely crushed his opponents by almost five lengths, and he did it with ease. Now he had the whole racing world wondering, just how good is Big Brown.

Two weeks later Big Brown answered with incredibly easy victory in the Preakness. He practically cantered under the wire with his jockey keeping him under a strong hold. Again nobody came close to Big Brown as he won by five lengths, now he was looking to become just the 12th Triple Crown winner, the first in 30 years. By Belmont day people were so sure of Big Brown’s ability they did not question whether he’d win, they were wondering by how much he would win by, some predicting a Secretariat like performance. As the gates swung open though, it was clear this was not the same Big Brown who routinely thrashed his rivals. Big Brown never finished and was eased in the stretch.

Nobody knows why Big Brown was so off his game that day. Some people say that a picture showing a bent and loose shoe was the main cause, others say missed training, or a bad ride, but it will forever remain a Triple Crown mystery. What we do know is that in his next race, the Haskell Invitational Big Brown came back with a bang. He was not as dominant as he had been in the past, but he showed he had the heart of a warrior when he ran down the free running Coal Play in late stretch. In his next race the Monmouth Stakes Big Brown was back on the lawn. Again he show he had the heart of a true champion, as he went to the lead setting brisk fractions, and still held off a hard charging Proudinsky by a head. What is most impressive is that Proudinsky never even went by after the wire, once Big Brown had seen him, he dug in and absolutely refused to let anyone by.

Big Brown was now set to begin preparations for the Breeders Cup Classic, where he would meet California’s synthetic sensation Go Between, some of the best horses from Europe, and most importantly Curlin, last year’s horse of the year and that year’s Dubai World Cup champion. This by some was said to be the race of the year, and possibly the decade.

Fate seemed again, to conspire against Big Brown. Only a few weeks were left until the Breeders Cup when the racing world learned that Big Brown had injured himself during a morning breeze and would not make the Breeders Cup. The champion had grabbed a quarter, taking a chunk out of the heel and bulb of his foot. From there Big Brown was retired to begin life as a stud.No matter what some say about him Big Brown was and still is a great horse.

Some may say you can’t be great after only racing in eight lifetime starts, I say yes you can. Big Brown displayed the brilliance, the dominance and the swagger you rarely ever see in a race horse, he did things that horses just aren’t suppose to do. His Kentucky Derby was incredible, and will never be equaled by another, and up until the Belmont he steam rolled ever horse that dared challenge him. After the Belmont, even though he was not as brilliant as he had once shown, he displayed the heart of a true champion when looked in the eye.

Many will argue that he was drugged up in each of his more dominating victories, but to me he still had no real advantage. The drug he was on, in my opinion, was like the equivalent of a human taking a Advil or Aleve to help dull or cope with a nagging pain you may have, so that you can perform to their normal standards. Lastly, what impresses me most is that he accomplished all these great things on feet so brittle, that were constantly plagued by quarter cracks. Knowing that fact makes you appreciate what he did all the more. Looking at him, is he the greatest or the very best of race horses, no, but he is right there with them holding his own. Big Brown is and always will be a great horse.


  1. I think that Big Brown might have stopped running in the Belmont because he was a particularly intelligent horse. Kent took ahold of him after the break and fought with him. Big Brown did what he thought he was supposed to do. Not fire. Not give his best.

    And I prefer to think this was the reason. It makes me happy to think this way, I liked Big Brown-Desormeaux-Dutrow and felt really bad for them all that day. I could never understand the vicious hyenas that jumped all over it with glee.

    Desormeaux said that they had won the Kentucky Derby with a turf horse. Steve Haskin ooohed and aaaahed over him, a darn good endorsement in my book. His babies may run well on all surfaces. And he is one gorgeous horse. I still have fond memories of his career. After his first win he went not long after on the vet's list for those pesky feet. Dutrow did as good as anyone under the circumstances. I remember the day Big Brown's connections chose the 20 post with no reservations at all. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness alone were worth the ride. I had hoped that they might put him back in training after his hooves had grown out, but no such luck.

  2. Big Brown was certainly a unique talent...thanks for the nice tribute. I think the brashness of his connections turned people off, but he could sure run.

  3. I think the brashness and the questionable character of the connections of this colt was one of the worst travesties in racing history.

    Just imagine what he could have accomplished under a fair and honest group.
    Small correction, the picture is not the walk over. That is a special time for all the connections, walking through the gap, hearing the crowd!

  4. Anon,
    You will have questionable people on every road you take, it's sad, but it's life. A horse should not be blamed for what some thought of his connecitons.

    BTW thanks for the pic tip.

  5. In this game that we're in, it's ONLY the connections that can take the blame.
    Trust me, at an age old enough to be your grandparent I'm pretty well versed in the ups and downs of life.
    The horse wasn't blamed, I think he could have accomplished some great things in the hands of others. However, others in our game, those who work in it every day, just as I do, think the horse accomplished what he did because of the type of connections he was under. Enhancement is their specialty, if you get my drift.

  6. Anon,
    Where in my post did I say don't blame the connections? The horse did get blamed, if you look at any of last year's blogs you will see he did. He was disliked because of his connections, that is blaming the horse which should not have happened. Also with his feet, there was no way he would've accomplished a whole lot, unless he was a version of Ghostzapper who was brilliant in only four of five starts a year, and to be honest, what is the point of racing a horse if he is so unsoud you'll only be racing him about four times a year, and possibly causing him pain?

    Also his connections may not be all that honest, but according to other writers like Steve Haskin they LOVED their horses. Dutrow did what he could to try and keep the colt as sound as possible. It was very dissapointing to run in the Belmont, but at the time they gave the public what they wanted, which was a chance at the TC.

    Also, and I am not being rude, but with horses I could care less about your age and how much you've been through. If you want to talk about it, go ahead, but I will not listen.

  7. Addressing your comment saying 'it's part of life'.

    I know it's your blog, but in your blurb you say you're still learning about the game and horses?
    Seems you're pretty set in your ways and closed minded. Too bad because there's a lot of people in the game that you could learn from.

    Just remember too, turf writers are told what most of us want them to know. Particularly the shady guys spin things the way they want to be percieved.

    With age comes experience, with experience and age come knowledge.
    If youngsters who don't even work in the game think they have more knowledge than someone four time their age and decades of hands on in the industry?
    Then I feel badly for them. Because there's no room for growth.

  8. It is not closed minded at all, it is untrusting, which I have plenty of reason to be. I will not say I'm right until I'm given cold hard fact to prove I'm wrong, and the only thing you have that is of any consequence reguarding BB is that he was given a training steriod by the name of Wistrol. Even that is not really valid seeing as how vets say that it does not have the same affect on humans it does on humans. From how they described it, my take is that it is like me taking a motrin or aleve to help get rid of a headache or reduce swelling in an aching muscle, so you can work like you normally do and not end up sore.

    Age though is not a factor for me and neither is experience always. I've met plenty of ppl who had worked in the field and still hardly can train or work a horse. By the same token I've met those that do have some know how, and they are the ones I will listen to, but you have to prove to me that you do know what your doing. I don't know you, so I'm not going to readily agree with everything you say. Not close minded, it's caution.

  9. The drug is Winstrol. It is now banned in almost every racing jurisdiction.

  10. Excuse the typo, I mispelled the name of the drug, sorry. I happen to know it is banned because racing has banned just about every other drug or stroid except bute or lasix, I think were the two. As I said though, you can go look back at the vet reports and they will say that Winstrol does not have the same affect on horses as it does on humans.

  11. Lots of drugs still can be used. Just not on race day.
    Winstrol doesn't have the same exact effects but does heal muscles, increase appetite and so on.
    Since their effect is cumulative and levels can't be controlled for race day, like clenbuterol that's why the ban. Trust me if it didn't affect the way the horses trained, their conditioning? They wouldn't be banned.
    With the strange issue of Atrovent, not getting out of the system in the time frame that Vets thought, thats a whole new dilemma on training meds.