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Bill Denver/AP

Big Brown’s Career Is Over

October 14, 2008 03:30 PM
by Denis Cummings
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown has been retired after suffering an injury just 12 days before he was scheduled to race Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Big Brown Retired

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Big Brown injured his right front hoof during a six-furlong workout Monday at New York’s Aqueduct Racetrack. The injury, which commonly takes 60 to 90 days for the wound to properly heal, knocked Big Brown out of the Oct. 25 Breeders’ Cup Classic. With his stud career scheduled to begin by Dec. 31, his connections—trainer Rick Dutrow, and owners IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa Jr.—decided to retire him immediately.

“I go back to the barn and saw this serious look on Rick’s face,” said Michael Iavarone, co-president of IEAH Stables. “He showed me the horse and when I got my eyes on it I knew immediately we were in trouble. Any chance at the Classic was lost, and there was no choice but to retire him.”

The injury was caused when Big Brown’s right hind hoof caught his right front hoof during the workout. The hind hoof tore a 3-inch piece of flesh from the front hoof and split open the bulb. The injured hoof is not the same one that he injured before this year’s Belmont Stakes.

The $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic was scheduled to be Big Brown’s last race and would have given him a chance to atone for his dreadful performance at Belmont. He would have faced 2007 Horse of the Year and defending Classic champion Curlin, a dream match-up for many horse racing fans.

“For me personally, I’m devastated,” said Iavarone. “This match-up was everything an owner dreams of, and words cannot describe what it like to know it’s not going to happen.”

Big Brown will remain at Aqueduct for several weeks while he recovers. He will then be sent to Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, where he has been sold to stud.

Background: Big Brown’s career

Big Brown’s career was marked by dominance, controversy and disappointment. Lightly raced as a two-year-old, he arrived at the Kentucky Derby with just three career races—all dominating wins. Though many analysts doubted Big Brown as a Derby favorite, he produced a stunning performance and won by 4 3/4 lengths.

Big Brown’s performance scared off many rivals and just one horse from the Derby was entered into the Preakness. Against a weak field, he romped to a 5 1/4-length victory and looked like he would break the 30-year Triple Crown drought.

Though Big Brown was flawless on the track, his connections—Dutrow and Iavarone—were generating controversy with brash comments to the media and dubious pasts. Dutrow had been suspended many times for injecting his horses with illegal substances, while Iavarone’s hedge fund-style stable was coming under scrutiny. Dutrow further courted controversy when he announced that he had been giving Big Brown a legal steroid.

In the lead-up to the Belmont, Big Brown suffered a quarter crack on his left front hoof, but it was repaired in time for the race. Big Brown remained the heavy favorite and Dutrow declared the Belmont to be a “foregone conclusion.”

On a hot afternoon, Big Brown broke well out of the gates, but looked rank early. Nonetheless, he was in good position to make a move on the final turn. Jockey Kent Desormeaux prodded him to go, but got no response. With race leader Da’ Tara pulling away, Desormeaux decided to pull up Big Brown as more than 90,000 fans looked on in disbelief.

“I had no horse,” said Desormeaux after the race. Doctors checked Big Brown, but could not find anything wrong. Big Brown returned to racing and the horse racing world hoped for a showdown between him and Curlin. However, even as the connections for each horse traded barbs in the media, they could not find a race for the two to run in.

“For now, nobody knows whether it is going to come off,” wrote The Independent’s Chris McGrath in September. “But what everybody does know, in the United States and beyond, is that they will feel cheated if they never get to see Curlin and Big Brown step into the ring together.”

Finally, both camps agreed to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and horse racing was set for the most anticipated non-Triple Crown race in recent memory. “This was to be a super matchup, a modern-day Affirmed-Alydar,” writes Bill Dwyre in the Los Angeles Times. “It was to call unprecedented attention to racing's biggest extravaganza, even if the public is unlikely to ever view the Breeders' Cup the same way it does the Triple Crown.”

But now horse racing fans will never get to see the two best horses of 2008 race each other. Big Brown retires with seven wins in eight races and $3.6 million earned, but he will likely be remembered for the loss at Belmont and the showdown with Curlin that never came.
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