NEW YORK — The photograph of a dislodged shoe on Big Brown's right hind hoof in the June 21 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine might explain the colt's stunning meltdown June 7 in the Belmont Stakes. An extreme close-up shows the hoof about 200 yards into the 1½ -mile race, in which the Triple Crown hopeful was eased and finished last.
IEAH Stables co-president Michael Iavarone said Sunday that he found copies of two photos by free-lancer Russ Milton in his e-mail late Saturday night.
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”The picture shocked me,“ Iavarone said. ”When the shoe spread, a nail could have been pinching him. Or he could have been stepping on a hot nail, which would have been worse. I'm guessing the nail went back in but not in the same spot. Or it could have been a loose shoe, which would be like trying to run with a wobbly cleat.“
”Any of those things would be significant for a horse running a mile and a half. The track was my original explanation. But now I'm thinking the shoe was dislodged during the race and incorrectly reset while he was running.“
It was widely reported the next day that Big Brown's left hind shoe was loose, but Iavarone said that was a miscommunication. For nearly two weeks before the race, much attention was paid to a quarter crack on the colt's left front hoof.
Post-race examinations found no punctures or blood in the right hind hoof. Dr. Greg Bennett is the primary veterinarian for Rick Dutrow, Big Brown's trainer. Sunday night Bennett said the horse had ”no lameness issues“ afterward but agreed the loose shoe could have hindered him.
”When a shoe comes off, it does throw a horse out of balance, but it depends how traumatically it happens and at what stage of the race,“ Bennett said. ”A couple nails can loosen up, which can cause a lot of problems and affect a horse's performance.
”I'm not sure how much of an issue it was with Big Brown. Sometimes horses feel it after the race and are sore, but I'm not aware of that with Big Brown.“
Iavarone said Big Brown returned to the track ”two or three days“ after the race. He's been jogging daily at Aqueduct to prepare for the Haskell Invitational Aug. 3 at Monmouth Park.
So was it the extreme heat, the loose shoe or the track that brought down Big Brown? It's a moot point, because no excuse can ease the emotional or financial pain. Iavarone said not sweeping the Triple Crown cost IEAH ”$60 million plus“ in potential income from book and movie deals and licensed merchandise. It also impacted the colt's fee per mating when he begins his stud career next year in Kentucky.
”We only sold a minor portion of his breeding rights,“ Iavarone said, ”and there would have been huge bonuses if he had won.“
IEAH to come clean
Iavarone said IEAH will announce Monday that starting Oct. 1 it wants its horses tested for all drugs, except the prescribed dose of Lasix, before and after every race. He said he wants to be disqualified from purse money even if a legal substance (such as the steroid Winstrol) is detected.
Referring to Thursday's House subcommittee hearing on drugs and breakdowns, Iavarone said, ”I listened to Congress and they said they want reforms. So I'm putting my cards on the table and I want full transparency. Everybody wants zero tolerance, and I want to see how many owners follow suit. I have the feeling we're going to be alone out there.“
Iavarone said Dutrow backed the self-imposed ban on all medications perceived to be performance-enhancing.
Dutrow said a virus kept him from attending the hearing. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said Dutrow never told the committee he would be absent.