With those words, Jockey Kent Desormeaux explained why Big Brown was walked home most of the last half-mile of the 140th Belmont Stakes, finishing last. No Triple Crown this year, as has been the case the past thirty years. Another loss in the final gem of the Triple Crown for the favorite. And this one was an odd one for the viewers.
Fighting out from the rail Big Brown ran in third place most of the race. But as the horses entered the final turn - the place where Big Brown has thundered past the leaders in the last two races - it became apparent that he was not going to catch up to the leader. What was wrong? Did the lack of training, caused by Big Brown's hoof problems, cause him to be out of shape? Was there a problem with the heat, in the nineties at post-time? Was there something wrong with the horse internally?
We don't know yet, and may never know. But when the horses went around that final turn, Desormeaux pulled back on Big Brown and stood in his stirrups, slowing the big horse to a slow gallop. In contra point to the shrill shrieks of the Animal Rights ninnies, the jockey did what a good jockey does: he protected his horse. Desormeaux knew Big Brown had nothing left. For whatever reason Big Brown was running on empty. And his jockey decided to end the race. There was no attempt to lessen the amount of the loss, try, against all hope, to at least show. Nothing like that. Instead Kent Desormeaux pulled up and made Big Brown slow and stop racing.
``Just before he went into the last turn, I had no horse,'' Desormeaux said to ABC television immediately after the race. He said he [had] no idea what was wrong.
The temperature at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, was 96 degrees Fahrenheit (36 Celsius).
``It was hot as hell out there,'' Desormeaux said.
Rather than protect his own stats or fame as a jockey, Desormeaux protected the horse.
Big Brown was rank [A horse that is fractious or unmanageable by the jockey is said to be rank.] at the start and failed to respond when Desormeaux asked him to run in the last turn. At that point, Desormeaux eased him up.
The loss hit Desormeaux especially hard.
"This horse is the best I've ever ridden," he said. "Something's wrong, and I took care of him."
In his own impressive race, Nick Zito-trained Da'Tara with Jockey Alan Garcia aboard, led from wire-to-wire to win the Belmont. An excellent race by a pretty horse.
So, the racing world will have to wait at least another year for a Triple Crown contender. Nick Zito has won another Belmont Stakes - Zito won in 2004 with Birdstone, who spoiled Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown try - and spoiled a possible Triple Crown, although the contender had stopped racing before the finish.
"... I had no horse ..." What a sad way to end the bid for a Triple Crown. But what a fine way for a jockey to finish.
Note: From Sir Barton, the first winner of the Triple Crown in 1913, until Seattle Slew died in 2002, there had always been a living Triple Crown Champion. The next winner of the Triple Crown will be the only living Triple Crown winner.
Another Note: When Grey Lag won the Belmont in 1921, it marked the first running of the Belmont Stakes in the counter-clockwise manner of American fashion. This 53rd running was a mile and three-eighths over the main course; previous editions at Belmont Park had been run clockwise, in accordance with English custom, over a fish-hook course which included part of the training track and the main dirt oval.
Yet Another Note: Who ran the fastest Belmont? Who else? Secretariat set a world-record that still stands for the mile and a half distance on a dirt track at 2:24. (He had finished a mile and a quarter at 1:59, faster than his own Derby record of 1:59 2/5.) Here's video of that amazing performance in 1973: