Sunday, June 8, 2008

Big Brown: His Connections, So Eager to Celebrate, Forgot their Horse

In "And Justice for All," Al Pacino plays Arthur Kirkland, a criminal defense attorney. In the climatic scene, he explains to the jury that the prosecutor "wants a win so badly today, it means so much to him, he is so carried away with the prospect of winning, that he forgot something absolutely essential to today's proceeding. He forgot his case. He forgot to bring it."

And so it was with Richard Dutrow and Michael Iavarone, trainer and principal owner of Big Brown.

When Funny Cide and Smarty Jones were preparing for their tries at history in the Belmont, their trainers spoke with cautious, pensive optimism, mixed with respectful concern. Not so with Dutrow. As soon as the Preakness was over, a triumph in the Belmont was a foregone conclusion.

Cracked hoof ? No problem.

Four days of missed training? Won't hurt him a bit.

A new, clearly talented opponent ? Has no chance.

 Thirty years since a Triple Crown ? The other trainers didn't know how to train their horses.

Iavarone held discussions with NYC officials about a ticker tape parade, mused about how hefty sales of Big Brown merchandise might be, planned a $100 million horse hedge fund and signed a sponsorship with Hooters.

Since I thought about betting Casino Drive heavily to win the Belmont, I read their comments, looking for any foundation to justify their confidence. And I found none. As I wrote on Friday, Big Brown faced some serious obstacles in this Belmont, and most of them remained obstacles even after Casino Drive was scratched. Dutrow had no plan to overcome them, and his owner was on the same joy ride.

When the gates opened up on Saturday, it was revealed that Dutrow and Iavarone wanted a win so badly they had forgotten something absolutely essential to the day's proceeding: they forgot their horse.

From my vantage point, I knew the race was over before they entered the first turn. The horse, so placidly professional in the Derby and Preakness, was very rank and his head was not in the game; after settling down a little bit, he again began to get rank as soon as the serious running started, and his rider wisely eased him. There was Dutrow in the stands, wearing a Trump hat and preparing his acceptance speech. Pressed to explain the loss, he blamed his rider for pulling the horse up. As Arthur Kirkland would say, Dutrow was out of order.

Read more about what happened to Big Brown.