With Big Brown, still little known

Jun 24, 2008 6:58 PM

Golden Edge by Ed Golden | You can lead water to a track, but you can’t make it wet.

At Belmont Park on June 7, the vast expanse of the mile and a half main track resembled the Sahara, at least during the Belmont Stakes and the stakes races that preceded it. And that’s what accounted for heralded Big Brown being eased as the 3-10 favorite in his bid to win the Belmont and become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to sweep the elusive Triple Crown.

At least that’s the theory of trainer Barry Abrams, who was at Belmont that day to saddle Golden Doc A, a stretch-running Grade I stakes winner who never ran a yard in the Acorn Stakes, finishing fourth and last behind Zaftig in the 11/8-mile race. Like Big Brown, Golden Doc A was ridden by Kent Desormeaux.

So far, explanations for Big Brown’s defeat in the Belmont Stakes have come up dry. Perhaps that was the reason: lack of water.

"The track was very, very dry, and basically, it was like the horse was skiing," Abrams said of Big Brown. "He was slipping and sliding, and at the start of the race, he was very rank. The horse wanted to go but Desormeaux put the brakes on and the horse just wasn’t comfortable.

"He did a similar thing in the Preakness at Pimlico, but the track had a lot of moisture in it, so even though Big Brown was restrained from going forward, he wasn’t slipping. The early races at Belmont were run about 25, 30 minutes apart, but the stakes races were about 45, 50 minutes. They put the same amount of water on the track during the longer intervals, so the track dried out quicker, especially in 100-degree heat (it was 96, a record at Elmont, N.Y., home of Belmont Park), and who knows how hot the track surface was? It could have been 120, and the top layer just dried out."

Time for the Belmont, run as the 11th race, was a pedestrian 2:29.65. The Acorn, won by Zaftig, who passed leader Indian Blessing near the eighth pole, was the eighth race.

"Golden Doc A is very good horse and she’s never gone backwards in the stretch, but this time she did because she was slipping and sliding down the backstretch and wasn’t comfortable," Abrams continued. "She just protected herself. She didn’t know it was a big race, just like Big Brown didn’t know it was an important race for him. He was uncomfortable, and you couldn’t duplicate that track unless you were in a desert.

"The horses that broke smoothly were rolling and in motion right out of the gate and just kept going. Any horse that was restrained from the start and then asked to accelerate couldn’t. That’s why no one closed in the Belmont. Not one horse was going forward. They were all going backwards. They were just spinning their wheels in the stretch.

"Big Brown is a great horse, but he was very uncomfortable from slipping and sliding and he just said the heck with it, I ain’t trying. Desormeaux could have hit him with the whip 50 times; he wasn’t going to get the horse to go. It was equivalent to me being on a patch of ice and being chased by someone with a gun. I wouldn’t be able to outrun him because I would fall down.

"Horses think the same way. You can whip them all you want, but they’re not going to go, because they’re not comfortable. The track at Belmont the morning of the race was completely different from the one they ran on in that afternoon, and I’m sure NYRA (New York Racing Association) didn’t want it like that, but they couldn’t get enough water on it. There wasn’t enough water pressure and I believe they couldn’t fill the water trucks fast enough to add another layer of water."

There you have it: the reason Big Brown ran like a drip.

The homestretch

The Phillies are in one of their signature free falls, with eight losses in their last 11 games and a season-high four in a row through Saturday after reaching a high water mark of 13 games over .500. They were outscored 23-9 in the four losses. No one is hitting and every first pitch they take is a strike.

Chase Utley, mentioned as an MVP candidate early on, was mired in an 0-for-23 slump and benched in Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Angels, in which So Taguchi, who replaced Pat Burrell in left field for defense after pinch-running, botched a fly ball even I could have caught (well, maybe not). The Phils, notorious for striking out, outdid themselves by striking out four times in the eighth inning, Shane Victorino reaching first on a wild pitch after striking out.

I feel sorry for Ryan Howard, who has already struck out over 100 times on his way to a Major League record that could reach 250. They run the bases like the Bad News Bears and they’re not getting any calls from the umps, either. Perfect closer Brad Lidge (18 for 18) is a non-entity. He can’t get into the game because the Phils don’t have the lead in the ninth inning. Keep betting against them, Cole Hamels or not.

• On the Lakers’ 39-point loss to the Celtics that gave them the NBA championship: for this they preempted "Jeopardy?"

• As did 91 percent of readers polled by the New York Post, I too believe the testimony of game-fixer ref Tim Donaghy. For decades I’ve been saying that the NBA is merely wrestling, with a ball. An official never changes a disputed call. He’s judge and jury.

• Tiger Woods played 91 holes with a fractured left tibia while defeating Rocco Mediate in the U.S. Open. Where was PETA when Mediate needed it?