"Something was wrong. He's the best horse I've ever ridden. I took care of him."
~ Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown's jockey after the Belmont Stakes
What did happen to Big Brown during the grueling Belmont Stakes? The simple answer is that he just "hit the wall." It's not exactly uncommon among athletes, equine or otherwise. But why and on this day of all days?
Desormeaux also said, "The track wasn't holding him up. He slipped." Thoroughbreds are are notoriously of such a temperament that something like that can throw them completely off their game - and this goes for even a relatively laid back guy like Big Brown.
Thoroughbreds are also notorious for having thin, shelly hoof walls, and Big Brown did miss some training time because of a quarter crack. Was that enough to make such a difference?
If Desormeaux had continued trying to place him, might Big Brown have had one of those catastrophic breakdowns for which fatigue is known to be a huge risk factor? Fortunately, we will never know the answer to that one, but it certainly seems well within the realm of possibility.
Have we not had a Triple Crown winner for 30 years because modern TBs are so inbred and have been bred for speed alone for so long that the lengthy Belmont Stakes, coming so soon after the Derby and Preakness, is too much for them to handle anymore? Especially considering that they really are just babies.
If so, how much has that contributed to the heartbreaking deaths of the likes of Eight Bells and Barbaro? In breeding for ever more refined (i.e. lighter) bone, have breeders past the point at which bone density and training can compensate for lack of pure size?
There have been many questions recently about track surfaces as well. Those surfaces are a part of the whole American style of racing - running faster and shorter on dirt, as opposed to slower and longer runs on turf which are much more in keeping with what horses are naturally adapted to do. Are American Thoroughbreds being bred to run faster than flesh and blood can cope with?
Honestly, I do not know. I don't pretend to know. Unfortunately, I don't think anybody else knows either. I've never followed racing much, and I certainly never watch. If I'd seen Ruffian or Barbaro or Eight Bells go down... Let's just say that those are images I don't care to have to remember. It makes me feel crappy enough as it is.
I do know however that the above questions need answers, and soon. And I haven't even mentioned the whole area of steroids - which Big Brown was getting once a month except for May - and other questionable drugs which have been in all too common use.
Personally, I wish Big Brown all the best. He's a good horse, and I hope he lives a long and happy life. Sure, we all wish he had won the Triple Crown, but, you know, he doesn't care at all. And since I think the horse must come first in everything we do with them, that's good enough for me.
For the sake of all the other racing horses, I do feel the issues that made so many headlines this season must be addressed - sooner than later. There are so many things wrong with racing at present, but, fortunately for Big Brown, Kent Desormeaux isn't one of them.