The world awaited a delivery from Big Brown, but in a shocker it was 38-1 longshot Da’ Tara who won the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO), taking the "Test of the Champion" in wire-to-wire fashion June 7 as the horse seeking to win the Triple Crown was eased past the wire.
Trainer Nick Zito spoiled a Triple Crown for the second time in five years. He also trained Birdstone , who beat Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont. And, like 2004 when Zito also ran third with Royal Assault, he was third this year with Anak Nakal, who dead-heated with Ready’s Echo. In second was Denis of Cork, who was 5 1/4 lengths in back of the winner.
The final time was 2:29.65 on a fast track. Total attendance was 94,476.
Da' Tara returned $79.00, $28.00, and $14.80. Denis of Cork paid $5.40 and $4.10, while Anak Nakal and Ready's Echo, brought back $7.60 and $6.20, respectively. The exacta (6-4) netted $659.
Big Brown was in obvious trouble in the turn for home, and Desormeaux eased him back and let him gallop down the stretch. Following the race, Desormeaux said there was nothing physically wrong with Big Brown, who had won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said a preliminary examination of Big Brown revealed no lameness issue.
“He looked fine during the race," Bramlage said. "All I saw was when Desormeaux slowed him down. The veterinarian inspection team did not find anything wrong with him, and he was not lame.
Speaking on the television broadcast, Desormeaux said: "The racetrack just didn’t hold him up. He slipped. I got him outside early, and he cantered. He wanted to jump up in the bridle but I could tell I had no horse. I took care of him."
Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, Da' Tara is a son of Tiznow --Torchera, by Pirate's Bounty. He was purchased by Robert LaPenta for $175,000 at the New York Saratoga 2006 Select yearling sale.
The unlikliest of winners, Da' Tara had only a single victory to show from seven starts, that coming in maiden special weight competition Jan. 5 in the slop at Gulfstream Park. The following month, he was third in allowance company, and then on March 29 finished 23 1/2 lengths behind Big Brown in Florida Derby (gr. I).
Da' Tara was fifth to Macho Again in the April 26 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs, and improved to second in the 1 1/16-mile Barbaro Stakes on Preakness day at Pimlico Race Course.
A late entry into the Belmont, Da' Tara was thought to be nothing more than a pacesetter. But under Alan Garcia, he got away with easy fractions after sprinting to the lead, posting a :23.82 quarter, :48.30 half-mile, 1:12.90 for six furlongs, and 1:37.96 for a mile. Early on, it was Tale of Ekati pressing the pace with Eibar Coa, while Big Brown swung from the rail to stay close to the front. Anak Nakal was also in contention. Guadalcanal, Macho Again, Denis of Cork, Ready's Echo, and Icabad Crane were farther back.
Heading into the stretch, Da' Tara had a four-length lead. At that point, Big Brown had already been pulled up by Desormeaux, who began easing him midway on the turn. Denis of Cork was the only rival to manage a mild challenge, as he got to within four lengths mid-stretch under Robby Albarado. But Da' Tara found more inside the sixteenth-pole and cruised to the wire. Garcia pumped his fist in the air after the huge upset. It was the 22-year-old's first victory in a Triple Crown event.
“I want to thank God, obviously," Zito said immediately following the race. "And (New York State Gov. David Patterson) put it best. His relation put the shoes on Upset (when he beat Man’OWar in the 1919 Sanford at Saratoga). That’s the game. You keep trying. I have a tremendous staff and tremendous people that help me all day. I can’t do it myself. That’s the way the business is. I’ve been on the losing end. The champ, Big Brown, didn’t run his race today. He wasn’t himself. Da’Tara was himself.
“Alan is an aggressive jockey, too, and I felt they fit together. Tiznow won the Breeders’ Cup Classic here, and breeding is important to me.”
Big Brown, who was seeking the 12th Triple Crown in American Thoroughbred racing history, was sent off as the overwhelming 3-10 favorite in the field of nine. A winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness by a combined 12 lengths, he seemed to be in perfect position through seven furlongs. Though caught a bit wide, he was stalking the leader and was seemingly poised to make his patented huge move. But it never happened.
“I don’t really know how I feel," trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. said. "We did really good with him. It was a very disappointing race, but the horse looks like he’s fine. At right now, I can say, it looks like he’ll live a good life if he never races again. He didn’t get the Triple Crown, but we got the Derby and the Preakness and that was great.
"Right now, we’re trying to figure out what happened in the race. Everyone who was a Big Brown fan, I’m sure, was disappointed, just like I am. But, we’re going to check him out and see if he is OK. If we’re sure he is 100% getting back into training, we’ll go forward with him. If not, I’m sure we’ll just do the next thing, which is to retire him.
“He’s in good shape; he’s OK. We’re very, very proud of him. Something has to not be right for him to be pulled up in a race, so I have to try to find out what it is. I’m sure it’s not the horse’s fault, so there’s nothing to be down on him.”
Macho Again was fifth and was followed by Tale of Ekati, Guadalcanal, Icabad Crane, and Big Brown.