Kent Desormeaux walked out of Belmont Park like someone who was going to sleep OK Saturday night.
With a security guard escorting him to his car, Desormeaux smiled and held his head high, even if one woman out of earshot asked, “Who’s that?” and when she was told, said, “Who’s Kent Desormeaux?”
“O-ooohh, he rode Big Brown.”
The Belmont Stakes was barely an hour old, and Desormeaux was already moving on to the next thing.
It was a stark contrast to the mea culpa he’s been issuing for the last three weeks while answering questions about his Belmont ride in 1998, when he had another opportunity to win a Triple Crown, but moved too soon on Real Quiet and lost to Victory Gallop in the final stride.
“Well, Real Quiet, any time I could be less than a length, I think there’s absolutely something I could have done different, and that one just ate me up, and this will never eat me up,” the Hall of Fame jockey said.
Although Big Brown’s lackluster performance was a mystery to both Desormeaux and trainer Rick Dutrow, Dutrow didn’t second-guess the rider after the race about pulling Big Brown up coming out of the second turn.
The Boundary colt didn’t have his usual punch to collar the leaders, and Desormeaux geared him down as early as the half-mile pole, angling him toward the outside rail to jog through the line well after the rest of the field had finished.
While talking about the dynamics of the race, Desormeaux referenced another failed Triple Crown bid by an undefeated horse, Smarty Jones in 2004. Stewart Elliott has been criticized for his ride that year.
“You know, for him [Big Brown], it’s a slow pace, and I thought that the perfect racing scenario for me was to get outside and engage Da’ Tara at my convenience, not have them think that I’m the 3-5 and have them engage me at the seven-eighths and then end up another Smarty Jones,” Desormeaux said. “So I thought the race, when I got outside, going into the first turn, I said, ‘That’s it, the race is over. I got it.’ There’s no popped tired; he’s just out of gas.”
In 1998, it was a different story. Real Quiet led by as much as four lengths in the stretch, but lost by a nose to Victory Gallop.
How gut-wrenching must it be to live with the belief that you made a miscalculation that ruined what could have been the 12th Triple Crown?
Desormeaux won’t have that problem after Big Brown’s loss.
“I’ll be quite proud knowing I’m not going to finish in the money, and this horse was in no way, shape or form lame or sore, but there’s something amiss.
“He’s probably just tired, and I thought, in the horse’s best interests, let’s just get him back to the barn and recharge his batteries.
“This obviously would have been a life-changing experience if I win, but it’s life as usual. Nothing’s
going to change. I’m still going to try to be the lead rider every meet, race every day and take care of my kids, family, wife.”
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