“You broke the horse.”
In a place where the idea is to go fast and don’t look back, nothing moved through the stifling sauna of Belmont Park more swiftly than the schadenfreude of a jilted public.
In the matter of a half-hour, I went from having a friendly chat with Patrice Wolfson, who owned Affirmed, as we waited like sardines for Big Brown to show up in the paddock before the Belmont Stakes, to getting jackhammered in the ear by Robert Smigel and his profane puppet, Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, as we stood crammed shoulder-to-fake-paw in the horsepath that leads out to the main track.
Just like that, Big Brown’s grand promenade to immortality lurched sideways into the gutter.
Trainer Rick Dutrow, his rumpled blue dress shirt cemented to his back by a day’s worth of sweat, trudged back to the drug testing barn with his vanquished horse as a few harsh catcalls bounced off him.
One woman’s accusation: “You broke the horse.”
Well, that’s a little much. Big Brown wasn’t broken, at least not that anyone could see.
The sport of horse racing took a beating in the Belmont, though.
This was supposed to be the race that got people talking about the game again.
Despite the uncomfortable conditions, there were 94,476 hungry souls looking for a Triple Crown.
And there was Justin Tuck of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, presenting one trophy, and Shaq, on hand to hawk his favorite sports drink, presenting another while wearing a crisp light-brown three-piece suit after having shed jockey silks that he wore in the paddock.
The day had just the right touch of theater of the bizarre and cross-cultural appeal to get non-horse people talking about horse racing.
All they needed was for Big Brown to deliver.
But then it got really bizarre.
You wanted to be able to say you were there, you wanted to be able to say you saw history, and maybe you saw something that doesn’t happen very often, like a comet that you need a high-powered telescope and great timing to experience.
The chill that went up my back last year when Rags to Riches barely beat Curlin to become the first filly to win the Belmont in 102 years was quite real.
This time, standing in the same spot on the horsepath, it was just dread and a low-level nausea.
The animal rights people, thrown fresh meat by the death of Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby, were going to keep protesting the sport, no matter what, but at least Big Brown’s quest had started to swing things back around a little bit for a sport that comes with the word “dying” attached to it more and more frequently.
Dutrow mouthed off about his horse’s superiority without restraint, and you could take it either way.
“Maybe some people think it’s refreshing, some people think it’s great . . . I personally don’t,” said rival trainer David Carroll, who saddled second-place finisher
Denis of Cork.
So not everyone was broken up about Big Brown’s loss.
And we’ll just keep waiting.
Waiting for something to happen.
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