At the end of May, I wrote about the Metropolitan Handicap, noting that the last winner of the Handicap Triple Crown was Fit to Fight; four days after the Met Mile was run, Fit to Fight was euthanized due to, in that classic phrase, “the infirmities of old age.” He stood at Lane’s End and will join Saint Liam, Rubiano, and Fappiano et al. in the cemetery there. Michael Veitch, fan of racing past and present, wrote about the death of Fit to Fight in the Saratogian last week. Thanks to Lynne Veitch for bringing the article to my attention.
In other mailbag news, Donna Chenkin, executive director of the Belmont Child Care Association, commented on the effects of the Belmont aftermath on Anna House. The children of Anna House had been invited in recent weeks to visit both Big Brown and Casino Drive, and before Casino Drive headed back to Japan, Nobutaka Tada, manager of the horse’s team, invited the children back to the barn to say good-bye.
And in an act of grace and class, the BCCA received a note from Rich Schiavo of IEAH:
Life has its high and lows and Big Brown took all of us on a great high over the past few months.
We might be a little low today, but that will pass and hopefully we will see Big
Brown’s greatness when he races again later this year.
Tell Ana and the other children that Big Brown is doing well and not to be too
sad. He is still a great horse and he did win the Kentucky Derby and the
Preakness. He might have fallen a race short of the Triple Crown, but he still
has accomplished much.I enjoyed my visit last week, and now have a special
appreciation for the great work that you, Stuart, and the rest of the staff do
for the children.
More on Big Brown: I am joining the ranks of those defending Kent Desormeaux’s decision to pull up Big Brown in the stretch. One may well question Desormeaux’s ride as the race went into the first turn, though in my opinion, the jockey was doing the best he could with a horse who didn’t want to behave. Big Brown seemed to me last Saturday a headstrong, cranky adolescent who for the first time in his life didn’t get exactly what he wanted, and he didn’t like it. However, I recognize that reasonable people can disagree about what happened in the first part of the race.
On Sunday I watched the TV coverage of the Belmont, and the first thing Desormeaux said after the race was, “Long before we went into the last turn, I had no horse. I could not be fifth, this horse is the best horse I’ve ever ridden, and something’s wrong, so I took care of him.” Much emphasis has been given to “I could not be fifth,” and the comment has been placed into the context of Desormeaux’s reputation for not riding horses out, an alleged tendency about which I’ve read in a variety of forums since last summer.
But equal weight should be given to, “…something’s wrong, so I took care of him.” Did Desormeaux panic? Maybe. But I don’t know how anyone can question that in that moment, without time to think, Desormeaux acted instinctively, and that his instinct told him to take care of the horse. Maybe Eight Belles was on his mind, as she has been for so many of us. Maybe the thought of a horse going down in the stretch of Belmont led him to pull up Big Brown. And maybe one day Desormeaux will tell us exactly what he was thinking.
But the public outcry and Dutrow’s recent public abandonment of the jockey don’t exactly foster full disclosure; how many times (see A-Rod) have we wished that an athlete would just keep his mouth shut and stop saying stupid things? Look at how Desormeaux’s being treated for this post-race comment, a comment as spontanteous and instinctive as was his action with his horse. He’s not exactly being given credit for explaining his actions, and if I were he, I’d probably keep quiet, too.
Days after the race, whether Desormeaux did the right thing or not is immaterial. In that high-pressure moment, he did what he thought was right, and what more could we ask? Big Brown was going to finish up the track no matter Desmoreaux did at that point; the betting integrity of the race was not in question, and anyone who starts pointing conspiratorial fingers in Desormeaux’s direction is not taking heed of the gravity of the moment.
Who more than Desormeaux wanted to win that race? We can’t look at this in the context of Desormeaux’s other questionable rides; this one is, I think, sui generis. On the very biggest stage in the racing world, on top of a horse behaving in a completely foreign way, Desormeaux “took care of” Big Brown. If Big Brown had in fact been hurt, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and none of us, Desormeaux included, in those closing moments of the race, knew whether in fact the colt was OK. Our hindsight here is beautifully 20/20; Desormeaux had reason to believe that something was wrong, and he acted accordingly. Let’s move on.