A big weekend at my house? Hardly. Actually, it’s just a busy news week for the Sport of Kings.
Let’s start with the drugs! Who got popped this week? Only some of the biggest names in the sport: Richard Dutrow, Jr., trainer of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Big Brown; Steve Asmussen, the leading trainer in the country, not to mention trainer of 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin; and Larry Jones, trainer of the ill-fated filly Eight Belles.
Dutrow has been suspended for 15 days by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority for an overuse of Clenbuterol, a bronchodilator, found in his horse Salute the Count, who finished second in the Grade 3 Churchill Downs Turf Sprint on May 2nd. The trainer is expected to file an appeal. (Drug infractions are nothing new for Dutrow. If you’re keeping score at home, this makes 13 violations for drugging horses versus 8 for drugging himself.)
Steve Asmussen is expected to be notified by the Texas Racing Commission on Thursday that a Lidocaine positive has been detected in a blood sample taken after a victory by Timber Trick on May 10th at Lone Star Park. Asmussen is no stranger to drug infractions either, having served a six-month suspension in late 2006 for a Mepivacaine violation.
Most surprising was the news that Larry Jones, a trainer who has never had a drug infraction during his 27 year training career, has been notified this week by Delaware racing officials that his runner Stones River showed a Clenbuterol overage after his win in an allowance race at Delaware Park on June 8th. Jones garnered much unwanted attention as the trainer of Eight Belles, the filly who broke down and had to be destroyed after running in the Kentucky Derby. PETA made every attempt to implicate the filly’s jockey and trainer in the unfortunate accident that caused her death. (PETA is against killing animals, unless they get to do it themselves). His first reaction to news of a positive test result was to claim sabotage, but he has since allowed that it could have been legitimate.
The most interesting drug news this week was the announcement by IEAH Stables, principle owners of Big Brown, that for the good of the sport all of their horses will be now be trained and raced without the use of any drugs other than Lasix. If sincere, and if they follow through on their pronouncement, they are to be applauded. The interesting part, of course, is that their trainer is the aforementioned Richard Dutrow, Jr. We’ll see how much resolve they really have if they stop winning races. Hopefully, we’ll see other owners and trainers come out in support of racing clean.
Racing received yet another black-eye this week, literally, when it was announced that jockey Jeremy Rose has received a six month suspension for ‘extreme misuse of the whip‘. Rose’s mount Appeal to the City was struck in the face during the third race at Delaware Park on June 23rd and was treated for a laceration near his eye. The jockey says the incident was not intentional and the suspension will be appealed.
The Breeders’ Cup has announced a new fantasy sports game that will coincide with their Breeders’ Cup Challenge race days. The free online contest will run from July 5th to October 9th. The contest joins the previously announced Road to the Breeders’ Cup Fantasy Challenge sponsored by Churchill Downs.
Admit it. You only read this far to find out about the sex. (I’m taking headline writing lessons from the New York Post). Better than Honour, the mare that dropped back-to-back winners of the Belmont Stakes, won’t be having any more sex this year. After failing to conceive in May, it was decided that it was too late in the year to try again. She will be bred again in early 2009.
Allen Jerkens has earned his reputation as “The Giant Killer” by repeatedly beating big favorites with longshots in high profile races. Nick Zito is well on his way to earning a nickname of his own. After upsetting the past two Triple Crown attempts, maybe it’s time to start calling him “The Dream Killer”. Although, there were seven other trainers this year whose horses just as effectively ended Big Brown’s Triple Crown dream. Big Brown didn’t beat anyone.
Big Brown staggered home in last place and rather than continuing on down the stretch to cool out like normal, he hung a quick right just past the finish line and left the track long before the other runners returned to be unsaddled. I can’t say I blame him. I’d want to get off the track as soon as possible after that uninspired performance.
As of late Sunday night, there were no reports indicating a physical problem with the horse. Neither the jockey or the trainer were able to offer any explanation for Big Brown’s lack of response when he needed it most. Maybe he just wasn’t in the mood.
It may be that Big Brown was just too lightly raced to withstand the stress of three big races in a five week span. Maybe with a few more races under his belt he would have been professional enough to dig a little deeper when he wasn’t at his best. There will be another Triple Crown winner someday, but it will take a tough, talented, and professional race horse to get it done. There are no shortcuts to a Triple Crown.
Hat tip to Nick Zito for envisioning this result. He knew before the race his horse had a chance to steal the race on the front end. I wish I had spent a few minutes myself considering the possibility.
Big Brown will attempt to become just the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown, and the first since Affirmed in 1978, when he enters the gate at Belmont Park on Saturday for the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes. While Big Brown’s wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes clearly demonstrated that he was much superior to his rivals, consider these names: Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, and Smarty Jones. That’s quite a list, isn’t it? Every one of them was voted the Champion Three-Year-Old Male on the strength of their wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and most were odds-on to win the final leg of the Triple Crown. They all lost the Belmont Stakes.
As if the weight of history wasn’t enough to stop Big Brown, since he won the Preakness Stakes three weeks ago he has missed several days of training due to a quarter-crack in his left front hoof. It appears that the hoof has responded well to treatment, as indicated by a strong workout at Belmont Park this week, but this is certainly not how you would like to get a horse ready for a Triple Crown bid. Add to that a disadvantageous post position draw and you have to come to the conclusion that you would be crazy to take 2-5 on Big Brown, no matter how good he’s looked so far in his brief career.
It’s not all bad news for Big Brown. The second choice in the Belmont Stakes, Japanese runner Casino Drive, has only raced twice in his life. More of a concern is that he appears to have developed a stone bruise on his left rear foot that could affect his performance if he runs or could cause him to miss the race entirely.
So, will Big Brown win the Belmont Stakes? Who knows? If Casino Drive has to scratch, I don’t see who can beat him. Even with Casino Drive in, Big Brown looks to be the best horse, but I’m sure I thought the same thing about those ten horses I listed above.
I don’t see any way to bet on Big Brown at 2-5. I also don’t see how I can bet against him. So I won’t do either.
I’ll be at Belmont Park on Saturday hoping to see history made. I’ll consider it a big win for me if I can get an in-focus, properly exposed photo of Big Brown crossing the finish line as the first Triple Crown winner in thirty years. And I’m definately not a 2-5 favorite to do that.