Trainer Rick Dutrow’s initial displeasure over Kent Desormeaux’s ride aboard Triple Crown hopeful Big Brown in the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr.I) had abated quite a bit the morning of June 11, after he met with the Hall of Fame jockey. Dutrow said Desormeaux, who eased Big Brown at the top of the stretch in the Belmont, would have the mount when the colt races again.
At 9 a.m. June 11, Dutrow told a sole reporter at his Aqueduct barn that he and Desormeaux had met earlier and that their meeting, the first since Dutrow gave the rider a leg up on Big Brown in the paddock before the Belmont, was cordial.
“It went very good,” Dutrow said. “Kent feels bad as anybody. A lot of people were looking at him. A lot people were looking at me, which they should. As long as Big Brown is okay, I’m sure we will be able to get things back together with him; so far, so good.”
So good in fact that Big Brown went to the track June 11, the first time since before the Belmont Stakes, for a jog at Aqueduct.
“I’ll do it again (Thursday),” Dutrow said. “I’m not in a hurry. He needs a little down time, but he loves going out to the track. It’s better sending him out there, opposed to just walking him. He has more fun out there, you know. It’s just jogging; it’s not like he has any stress on him. I don’t need to find out everything in one day. I’ve got plenty of time.
“I took his shoes off of him (Tuesday), but that was what we wanted to do anyway. I took a full blood on him (Wednesday morning); I’ll see what it's like. I scoped him and it was clean. I don’t see any issues with his legs. So I’m just going to concentrate on him. Whatever has happened doesn’t matter anymore.”
Dutrow said he didn’t believe it would be fair to Desormeaux to take him off the horse. The trainer recalled how badly he felt when Saint Liam’s owner, William Warren, asked Dutrow to make a rider change from Edgar Prado to Jerry Bailey after Saint Liam finished second in the 2005 Whitney Handicap (gr.I) behind Commentator. Bailey rode Saint Liam to wins in the horse’s last two starts, the Woodward (gr.I) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr.I). Saint Liam was subsequently named the Horse of the Year.
“It would really hurt Kent if we took him off the horse, and I’m not out to hurt people,” Dutrow said. “I didn’t like it when I had to take Edgar (Prado) off Saint Liam. But if I didn’t do it, the owner would have taken the horse from me. And I didn’t want that either. So it has to hurt when you take a jock off a really good horse. Maybe things didn’t go our way in the (Belmont), but maybe next time they will.”
Next time implies that Big Brown will run again, and co-owner Michael Iavarone of IEAH Stable said he would like to run in the Aug. 3 Haskell (gr.I) at Monmouth Park. Before the Belmont, the Big Brown camp said the Aug. 23 Travers (gr.I) at Saratoga would be the Boundary colt’s next start. Running in the Haskell is something Dutrow might not be eager to do, but he said he would defer to the owners. IEAH maintains majority interest in the colt, with Paul Pompa Jr. owning 25 percent.
“Well, we are going to have to deal with (the Haskell) coming up,” Dutrow said. “I would like to just train the horse and see how he is. It wouldn’t be out of the question if that is what (Iavarone) wants. If I wouldn’t be okay with it, he would give the horse to another trainer. I wouldn’t be okay with that.”
Dutrow wasn’t interested in making excuses June 11. When asked about the scenarios (deep track, starter standing on the track, the distraction of the camera stand, and the heat) that might have caused Big Brown’s shocking last-place finish, he said, “I can’t throw (the track) up as an excuse. It may have played part; I don’t think I will ever know. Kent said the horse was traveling fine. Who knows, if the track played a part. He didn’t belong out there in the middle of the track anyways. Maybe that wasn’t the place to be. I’m not going to blame the racetrack, everybody else had to run on that racetrack and they had to run in that heat. So I’m not going to blame the track or the heat.”
Some media reports suggest that Big Brown, who exited from the rail post, was startled leaving the gate by the sight of Roy
Williamson, the starter for the New York Racing Association, who in typical fashion June 7 stood on the track to break the field.
“I see the (starter) on the track; I don’t know what he was doing,” Dutrow said. “But I’m not going to say that is the reason the horse got beat, or got jostled around the first turn. Instead of being (inside) the rail, he was (outside) standing right in the one path. I don’t know if he was there when they ran by him, maybe (Williamson) ducked under (the rail.)
“I said to Kent, ‘Why didn’t you say that in the paper? Everybody is asking me all these asking questions, and you never mentioned anything about this guy on the track, and now you are mentioning it.’ I said, ‘it would have helped if you said that right away.’ They are asking me these questions, and I don’t know. But (the starter) was there, and I don’t know if it played a part or not, and it doesn’t matter. Hey, what are we going to do, call (the New York Racing Association) and say, ‘Hey, what was this about, and we want a re-race?’
Williamson did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Dutrow, who said he had yet to watch replays of the race, would likely do so June 11 at Belmont.
One possible excuse that Dutrow had no interest in addressing is speculation the horse was undertrained for the Belmont because of the quarter crack he suffered two weeks earlier.
“I don’t feel that I need to respond to that at all,” he said.
Dutrow was calm, relaxed, and busy at his barn June 11.
“I’m good,” he said. “I have plenty to do. I’ve got plenty of nice horses here. Looks like I have a challenge with Big Brown; I like that. So we are in very good shape. We are very confident about (the future).”
Carmine Donofrio, the steward representing the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, said June 11 that he and the two other stewards, Dr. Theodore Hill and Braulio Baeza Jr., would meet with Desormeaux later in the day.
Donofrio said it is “routine” to discuss with a rider why a horse was eased or pulled up in the absence of noticeable distress, whether the horse is a favorite or not. Donofrio said a discussion usually takes place immediately after the race, but with the circus-like atmosphere following the Belmont, the stewards were unable to speak with the rider. Donofrio added that he didn’t anticipate any sanctions for Desormeaux’s actions because the rider was doing what he felt was in his mount's best interests.