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In the immediate aftermath Dutrow and his staff examined Big Brown and found him unhurt. "Most likely his training was compromised [by the hoof injury]," said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, "and it was that, not the talent of the horse."
IT HAS become routine for media and racing insiders to suggest that a Triple Crown is vital to the long-term health of the sport because it would create a spike in interest that would last beyond the Belmont (a questionable theory). Popular support for Big Brown is difficult to gauge, but inside the game there was a resentment of Dutrow (and perhaps owners IEAH Stables, with their nakedly economic goals) that spilled into the backstretch on Saturday evening.
David Carroll, who trains Belmont runner-up Denis of Cork, spat out words as he filled a bucket with cold water for his horse. "You're supposed to win with class," said Carroll. "He's saying his horse has beaten nothing and he's running against nothing. I was upset by that."
In an adjacent barn, trainer Dallas Stewart, whose Macho Again ran fifth, pulled on a bottle of Corona and angrily threw a lime into a trash can. "I've never heard anybody mouth off like that, and I've been around the track for 30 years," said Stewart. "There's no need to talk smack like that."
Trainer Bob Baffert, who three times fell short of the Triple Crown in the Belmont (1997, '98 and 2002), defended Dutrow. "Rick won the Kentucky Derby," said Baffert. "You know what a big deal that is? None of those guys [ Carroll or Stewart] has a Kentucky Derby statuette. He talked like he did because that horse is like one of his children to him. He really loves that horse. When you feel like that, you can talk all you want."
Zito, who also broke up the last Triple Crown try when his Birdstone ran down Smarty Jones in '04, said, "I'd like to focus on the positive, but I know this: Before honor, humility; you've got to be humble."
Meanwhile, Dutrow's April statement that he routinely gives his horses a monthly injection of the anabolic steroid Winstrol put Dutrow and Big Brown at the center of a debate on whether steroids should be banned. Dutrow said before the Belmont that Big Brown had not been given Winstrol since April 15, which will prompt speculation that Big Brown was a lesser horse without the juice and thus a less deserving champion.
On Sunday, IEAH copresident Michael Iavarone said that if Big Brown is healthy, he will run in the Jim Dandy or the Travers at Saratoga in late August. But a $50 million stallion deal with Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky awaits, and given the outcome of the Belmont, future racing would seem problematic and financially pointless.
Recent history suggests that Big Brown will disappear as swiftly as he emerged, a precocious talent whose racing career unfolded in nine months, by turns brilliant, controversial and, at the end, deeply disappointing. It is even more certain that, come winter, racing will attach itself to the next Big Brown, the next Smarty Jones, the next Funny Cide and run desperately toward another June confrontation with its own rich history, inviting another day of anticipation, longing and failure.