What does Big Brown do for me? Frankly, not much.
Despite the prospect of the horse becoming racing’s first Triple Crown winner since I was in high school (Affirmed in 1978), I’m just not that excited about Big Brown and the Belmont.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy horse racing. I’ve been to the Kentucky Derby (as a spectator, so it was Mint Juleps all around, all day) and it is truly one of the most special days in sports. And while the races are on, I’m as riveted as anyone watching the tiny jockeys navigate hundreds of pounds of pounding muscle and power around turns and through traffic.
But it seems the sport has changed. The sad, shocking death of Eight Belles, whose front ankles both collapsed after crossing the wire in the Kentucky Derby, prompted a debate about horse racing’s quiet underbelly, and I learned, to be honest, perhaps a bit more than I really wanted to know.
Don’t worry, I’m not a PETA freak. It seems the horses are well cared for and I have no issues with the existence of the sport. What troubles me is the apparent change in breeding that, according to some, is creating horses that are bred to race rather than bred to endure.
“We’ve crept to a less durable horse,” Larry Bramlage, a prominent equine orthopedic surgeon from Lexington, told USA Today. “… Now a horse’s value as a stallion is determined principally by how brilliant they were in a few events, not how many years they ground it out.”
The result is perhaps a generation of horses that are all show and go, without the stout heart and sound body that characterized their predecessors.
Big Brown has only raced five times – ever! He raced once as a two-year-old and four times in ’08, including the two Triple Crown races.
Affirmed, by contrast, left the starting gate nine times as a two-year-old, winning seven. He then raced three times prior to the Kentucky Derby. All told, he ran in 11 races as a three-year-old, including the Triple Crown and two classic confrontations with another Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew. (He lost both times.)
As a four-year-old, Affirmed raced nine times, winning seven.
I feel that, should Big Brown cross the wire first at Belmont on Saturday, he’ll be led straight to some breeding farm, rarely to race again. Why risk the mega-paydays that would certainly come from breeding a Triple Crown winner, the first in generations? Especially if the horse is of an era when the next race just may not be guaranteed.
Affirmed raced 29 times; Big Brown isn’t likely to come close. Sure, he’d be a Triple Crown winner in name, but at the risk of sounding old school, would Big Brown be a true Triple Crown horse, on par with such iconic figures as Secretariat or Seattle Slew? Or even Alydar, who finished second to Affirmed in all three Triple Crown races?
Not by several lengths.