There were times last season when it appeared Big Brown's career would be defined by the drama that surrounded it — from his controversial connections to the cloud of tragedy that hung over his finest moment.
On Monday night, however, there was little doubt it was the sheer brilliance demonstrated by the dual classic winner that left the most indelible impression.
In one of the largest margins of victories of his meteoric career, Big Brown captured the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old male Monday, garnering 219 of 242 first-place votes.
While the antics of his brash trainer Rick Dutrow provided the most fodder, Big Brown's rise from unknown to superstar turned the racing world on its ear.
In only his fourth career start, the son of Boundary overcame the outside No. 20 post to win the Kentucky Derby by 4¾ lengths. It was a monstrous feat tempered by the death of runner-up Eight Belles, who fractured both ankles while galloping out after the race.
After cantering home to a 5¼-length triumph in the Preakness Stakes, Big Brown missed his chance to become just the 12th Triple Crown winner. He suffered his only defeat in eight career starts when he inexplicably faded and was eased in the stretch of the Belmont Stakes by jockey Kent Desormeaux.
Despite the questions that swirled in the aftermath of the Belmont meltdown, Big Brown still managed to capture the Grade I Haskell Invitational in his first start back in August. He then beat older horses on the turf in the $500,000 Monmouth Stakes in September before a hoof injury forced his retirement one month later.
"I guess (the most memorable thing) is how quickly it all happened," Michael Sherack, vice president of investor relations for IEAH Stables, majority owner of Big Brown, said in an interview with the Herald-Leader last week. "To have every race carry so much importance and that he was up for every test the way he was is just amazing.
"You hear people say, 'Oh it hasn't sunk in yet,' and it still hasn't with us. I think it will hit us over time, and we'll look back and say, 'Wow, he was something else.' "