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Big Brown can't deliver the goods in Belmont Stakes
ELMONT, N.Y. -- It didn't happen, big time.
Big Brown not only failed to win the Triple Crown, he finished ninth and last in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
Trying to become horse racing's first Triple Crown winner in 30 years, Big Brown instead became just another horse to win the first two legs, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, then lose in the third, the Belmont.
The count is now up to 11 horses that have done that since Affirmed was the last to win the Triple Crown in 1978.
Maybe it was because Big Brown was running steroid free for the first time, trainer Rick Dutrow having chosen not to give him his monthly dose on May 15.
Maybe it was because the cracked left front hoof was more serious than Dutrow and others connected to the horse thought.
Maybe it was the 96-degree heat.
Whatever it was, it wasn't Big Brown's day. Jockey Kent Desormeaux, realizing the horse wasn't going to finish in the top five and thus not earn any prize money, pulled him up coming around the far turn.
Big Brown then galloped to the finish line long after the race was over.
Da' Tara, the longest shot on the board at 38-1, led wire to wire to win the $1-million Belmont, covering the 1 1/2 -mile distance on a track rated fast in 2:29.65.
Da' Tara, who paid $79, $28 and $14.80, finished 5 1/4 lengths ahead of runner-up Denis of Cork in the 140th running of the Belmont. Anak Nakal and Ready's Hero finished in a dead heat for third.
Not only was it a bad day for Big Brown, it also wasn't a good one for many in the crowd of 94,476 at troubled Belmont Park.
Not only was it hot and humid, a lack of water pressure throughout much of the facility left many of the restrooms unusable, particularly the women's rooms.
But that had nothing to do with what happened to Big Brown, who lost for the first time in his career after five victories and became the first horse to finish last while trying for the Triple Crown.
"I think I'm numb," Desormeaux said. "A little lost; just feeling no emotion whatsoever. Blank.
"About 100 yards before the last turn, the 5/8ths pole, I thought that would play into my hand. I was keeping an eye on the horse in front of me, I said let's engage, and I was done. I had no horse. I was empty.
"It was hot as hell out there."
Desormeaux said he had no idea what happened, and neither did Dutrow.
"The horse kind of looks like he is fine to me," the trainer said. "It certainly seems that Kent did the right thing in pulling him up. When they turned for home, something wasn't right.
"I really don't know how I feel. It was a very disappointing race, but the horse looks like he is fine.
"Right now, I can say it looks like he'll live a good life if he never races again. He didn't get the Triple Crown, but he got the Derby and the Preakness and that was great.
"We're going to check him out and see if he is OK. If we're sure he is 100% getting back into training, we'll go forward with him. If not, I'm sure we'll just do the next thing, which is to retire him."
Larry Bramlage, the on-site veterinarian and spokesman for the American Assn. of Equine Practitioners, said on ABC that there were no outward signs of difficulty.
"His feet looked OK, and he was not lame when he stopped here in front of the stands," Bramlage said. "There was some reason he didn't feel like running today."
Big Brown was the unlikeliest last-place finisher and Da' Tara was the unlikeliest winner. He had a lone victory in seven starts, that coming in a special maiden race Jan. 5 at Florida's Gulfstream Park on a sloppy track.
On March 23, he finished 23 1/2 lengths back of Big Brown in the Florida Derby.
On April 20 in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs, he was fifth to Macho Again, who finished fifth in Saturday's Belmont with Garrett Gomez aboard.
But Da' Tara, a son of Tiznow, finished second to Roman Emperor in the Barbaro Stakes on the Preakness undercard.
So owner Robert LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito decided to take a flier and put him in the Belmont.
"Nick called about a week ago and said, 'Are we crazy?' " LaPenta said. "And he said, 'Look, we're always crazy, and we did it.' "
Four months ago, LaPenta and Zito thought they'd be celebrating in Triple Crown races with 2-year-old champion War Pass. But a leg injury ended that possibility.
"We wish we were here with War Pass, but Da' Tara did it for him," LaPenta said.