It’s been a pretty obvious grumble since the Triple Crown, but I’m more convinced now than ever that the connections of Big Brown don’t deserve him. Anyone who has been following this horse knows about his corporate ownership by International Equine Acquisitions Holdings, Inc. (IEAH), his big mouth trainer with a bigger ego, and finally, his scatterbrained jockey who embarrassed him in the Belmont. If there’s one single person in Big Brown’s camp that we can cling to, that person is Big Brown’s closest human friend, his exercise rider and assistant trainer Michelle Nevin.
Now, Michelle doesn’t have the responsibility of calling the shots for Brownie, but it is clear she loves this horse. She is the only person Brownie likes to carry on his back—one time, he actually tried to throw off Kent Desormeaux when the jockey replaced Michelle in a workout. It seems Desormeaux couldn’t cut being Brownie’s exercise rider—he doesn’t have the pipes. Yes, on his morning workouts, Michelle routinely sings to the big bay champ. It’s this connection between the horse and rider that brings so many legendary friendships to mind; Phar Lap and Tommy Woodcock, Man o’ War and Will Harbut. Not to say Big Brown is in the caliber of either of these greats, but the companionships are a testimony to something the rest of Big Brown’s camp can’t seem to get their minds around: an understanding with the horse.
Of course, Rick Dutrow knows horses and is a capable trainer. His problem lies in his pride—he acts as if the answer to Big Brown’s catastrophic Belmont hasn’t already been presented to him. By dodging the facts and constantly acting “perplexed” about the horse’s last race, the trainer is making himself look haplessly clueless. His refusing to understand the horse and the situations afflicting him support the fact that Dutrow is both spineless and egotistical. Why can’t he own up to making a mistake? Oh, right. It’s because he’s the perpetual ostrich that’s got his head stuck in a hole. Lest we forget the slam Dutrow put on Smarty Jones’ trainer for flubbing up his Belmont before Big Brown met his first defeat.
Big Brown is returning in his first race since the debacle we will dub the “Black Belmont” this Sunday in the Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park. The race is being set up not as a challenge against a field of great competitors, but as a challenge for Big Brown to prove himself once again. This is his testament, his moment to show the world the Black Belmont was a roller coaster of bad luck; after all, the front-running winner just proved what he was made of in the Jim Dandy, finishing last without excuses.
The field for the Haskell is pretty much a best-of Grade 3 or runner-up winners: Atoned, Cool Coal Man, Magical Forest, Nistle’s Crunch, and Coal Play are all slated to run. As of this article, no major contenders are said to be targeted toward the race, as Harlem Rocker, the winner of the Prince of Wales Stakes, is now being saved for the Travers Stakes. So, without anyone to really step up to challenge but himself, Big Brown must run the race to save his career. It will likely be his third to last career start if he does well; if he runs a repeat of the Black Belmont, says the sniveling Dutrow, he will not be raced again.
Though pompous flag-waving is hardly the scene around Big Brown’s barn lately, the horse’s preparations for the Haskell have been showing glimmers of hope. On July 26th, Michell Nevin worked Brownie over six furlongs in a swift 1:10 and change at Aqueduct. Spokesman for IEAH Stables, Michael Lavarone, told Blood-horse, “[Michelle] said he worked unbelievable, the best work he’s ever had… She couldn’t get him to pull up. It was more impressive because he worked by himself.” Big Brown is scheduled for a blow out before the Haskell, an old-school training technique that sharpened him for the Derby and Preakness that he missed before the Black Belmont.
After the Haskell, Dutrow says he would like to run Big Brown in the historic Travers Stakes, which will be in its 139th running this year, but doesn’t know if a three-week layoff after the Haskell will be the right timing for the bay colt. Lavarone had other ideas for Big Brown’s next race, showing a further rift between what trainer and owner thinks is best for the Kentucky Derby winner.
I say, hand over Brownie’s calendar to the person who knows him best and let her and Mr. Big decide for themselves.
The Haskell Invitational Handicap will be televised on ESPN Classic and ESPN News at 5:00pm CT this Sunday, August 3rd. The race and coverage will also be broadcast on TVG.