Mike Iavarone, co-president of IEAH Stables, had a strong reaction to an inset photo that appeared in the June 21 issue of The Blood-Horse that showed the back of Big Brown’s right hind shoe, which had been put on the morning of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), dislodged from his hoof shortly after the start of the race.
The colt was pulled up by jockey Kent Desormeaux at the top of the stretch, ending his bid for a Triple Crown.
“Someone e-mailed me the photo and everybody’s all over it now,” Iavarone said. “When the horse came back after the race, he didn’t have a separation like he had (in the photo); he just had a spread shoe. We didn’t realize the shoe had dislodged the way it did. It’s a very curious area. Just above the bend, it looks like a there’s a loose nail. There is a possibility he could have been running on a hot nail.
"The other possibility is, if the nail broke off and came out, then he was running on a loose toe grab. I talked to Ian, and this has now moved to the top of everybody’s list. How it happened is the question; it’s very strange.
“Of all the possibilities why he ran the way he did, this is the most interesting thing we’ve seen yet. This could very well be the answer we’re looking for. You have him running on that loose bend, and you have the potential of him grabbing a nail. That’s the crazy part of it. Rick said when he came back, the shoe had spread, but it wasn’t like it shows in this photo. So, the shoe re-set somehow, but not right. That’s why we’re thinking he might have caught a nail.”
Dutrow, however, does not believe the shoe was a major issue, but said he had not seen the photo.
“I told Mike (Iavarone) right after the race all I see is that he’s got a little bit of a spread shoe behind,” Dutrow said. “When he came out of the gate, maybe he got stepped on. I’ve told Mike and everybody I don’t see anything whatsoever wrong with the horse. Now, I saw the spread shoe right when he came off the track, and my blacksmith took it off. If there was an issue, when you take the shoe off, the horse would flinch from it. He did not flinch, and the blacksmith had to use his tools to take it off.
"So, the shoe was on there real nice and good. I was watching this horse for any bad steps, and if Mike puts it out there that this was the reason, I’m going to continue to say I do not see anything wrong with this horse. If they have a picture where the shoe is loose, it probably went right back in place when he put the foot down.
“I talked to Kent (Desormeaux) yesterday, and he said the same thing he said right after the race: ‘There is nothing wrong with this horse.’ I was looking for a problem and I didn’t see one. I saw a little bit of a spread shoe, and when we took it off, he walked good and didn’t take a single sore step. So how can it possibly be an issue?”
When asked about the possibility that Big Brown might have displaced his soft palate from the stress early in the race, Dutrow said, “We scoped him and he could not have scoped better. It’s the only time I ever scoped the horse, because I couldn’t see anything wrong. He scoped completely clean with a very good scope veterinarian. There was absolutely nothing.
"If he would have made a sound during a gallop or a breeze during the time I’ve had him, we would have scoped him. We never had to, and the only reason I scoped him after the Belmont was because something clearly was not right. So I eliminated displacing and I eliminated the back shoe. I have no idea what to blame everything on.
"Was it because of the first half-mile? It’s very possible. Throw that in with the back shoe, and people said he didn’t sweat (which I’ve seen him sweat); I’ve heard all kinds of things. If you put them all together maybe it would add up. I’ve only been concentrating on the horse and I have not seen anything wrong with him.
“I’m training forwardly, but cautiously. After the race, I talked to Ian and said, ‘Ian, let’s just strip him down, let him go barefoot for a couple of weeks unless you see a reason why you have to put the shoes right back on, and I’m just gonna jog him for about three weeks just to give him a little bit of a break.’ So far, everything has been right on schedule, and the horse looks as happy as he can be.”
So, the mystery of Big Brown’s performance continues, likely never to be solved.