The fallout came down almost immediately and hasn't let up since.
From the moment jockey Kent Desormeaux eased Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Big Brown in the stretch of the Belmont Stakes, ending his Triple Crown bid, the strapping bay colt has found himself in arguably the biggest fall from grace by an athlete not named Roger Clemens this year.
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In one dismal 11/2-mile outing, the horse many deemed a lock to join the annals of racing history was cast off as a bust.
This Sunday, Big Brown finally gets to have his say as to whether that first Saturday in June was an aberration or a sign of things to come.
Big Brown will attempt to erase the hit to his reputation when he faces what should be an overmatched field in the $1 million, Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
The Kentucky Derby is the most prestigious triumph of Big Brown's career, but Sunday's 11⁄8-mile Haskell might be the most crucial test with regards to his future.
With a handy win, his Belmont is written off as a fluke but another loss could hasten his entrance into the breeding shed.
Although Big Brown's sizzling six-furlong work in 1:10.86 last Saturday signaled he was back on form, even his notoriously outspoken trainer has been choosing his words with uncharacteristic caution.
“If Big Brown finishes the year out the right way, I'm going to forget about trying to figure out what went wrong (in the Belmont) but ...everything the rest of the year will depend on what happens at Monmouth,” trainer Rick Dutrow said during a national teleconference on Tuesday. “I'm still kind of concerned about what's going to happen Sunday, because I know the horse went into the Belmont in very good condition, and what happened in that race I have no idea.
“If it happens again, then I'm going to know something is wrong with him and he's just not going to run anymore, stuff like that.”
Aside from Big Brown being down for “two to three days” after his Belmont loss, Dutrow said he never did find anything physically wrong to explain away the son of Boundary's disappointing performance.
If the old, dominant Big Brown shows up on Sunday, Dutrow would like to run him back in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 23, but said his ownership group of IEAH Stables was leaning against the quick turnaround.
“I believe he's a horse that should run in the Travers because it's such a prestigious race but... it would be a stretch,” said Dutrow, who added he plans to breeze Big Brown three furlongs this Friday at Aqueduct and ship to Monmouth Saturday. “I really want to run in the Travers and if he runs his race and looks great, I'm going to try and talk (IEAH co-president) Mike Iavarone into it.”
Big Brown may have been inactive since the Belmont but the drama surrounding his connections has been plowing ahead at full speed.
Following news that Dutrow had been handed a 15-day suspension for a clenbuterol violation in Kentucky — a story that broke just days after IEAH announced it was going drug-free with its horses with the exception of Lasix — the relationship between Dutrow and Iavarone has been unsteady at best.
“Mike said there were some clients that were very upset and they were thinking about taking the horses away but Mike never told me he was taking the horses,” said Dutrow, who has appealed the suspension but stated he would eventually serve the punishment. “I think if he was going to take them he would just take them. I feel I've done a good job with the horses in our care.”
In addition to the drug overage — which was for a horse not owned by IEAH — Iavarone was angered he didn't learn about it until it was already out in the media.
“It just didn't come to me,” Dutrow said when asked why he didn't give Iavarone the heads up. “I'm not one of the smartest guys out there to know what will be coming ahead. I guess I should have said something to Mike but I just didn't think about it.”
When Dutrow looks at Big Brown these days, he says he sees a horse in peak physical form ready to run a monster race.
Considering what happened the last time he got that impression, however, one won't get any grand guarantees of victory this time around.
“Right now I can't see any kind of issue with him in any way,” Dutrow said. “From what happened in his last start it's hard for me to feel as confident as I was for the Derby and other races. But I feel as confident as I can be that he will go out there and run his race.”
■ Dutrow trainee Rising Moon, who was vanned off after his fifth-place finish in the Whitney Handicap on Saturday, apparently does not have a fracture in his left front as was initially believed. “I'm really not sure yet but I know it's his foot and I've been led to believe it's a bruise,” Dutrow said. “Maybe he stepped on a rock on the way to the paddock.”