I caught up with him late last night as he was preparing to board a flight to Brunei, something about the Sultan owing him some scratch from the Stanley Cup Playoffs or something. Seems the Sultan is a Pens fan. Who knew?
Ever since the demise of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, when a nation needs to have the inexplicable explained, they turn their lonely eyes to Team Haberle. So, naturally, we at The O Zone turned to Team Haberle (the genius formerly known as Uncle Robs) for answers as to what unfolded at this past Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
TOZ: Was it the heat and humidity that kept Big Brown from winning?
TH: I don’t think so, Nephew Steve. He looked fine in warm-ups and the post parade. He wasn’t lathering heavily prior to the race. He seemed OK to me at the start.
TOZ: Was it the rail post position?
TH: Well, possibly that had something to do with it. He looked distracted (like he was peering into the infield) going into the first turn. However, once they got into that first turn, that didn’t appear to be a factor any longer when Desormeaux swung him outside to steady him.
TOZ: What about Kent Desormeaux’s ride? Desormeaux got hammered pretty good by Dick Jerardi in the Monday Daily News/Philly.com
TH: With all due respect to Dick Jerardi (who I really like because he’s one of the few media people in Philly who writes and talks horse racing), I think he’s way off base here. Kent Desormeaux is a Hall-of-Fame jockey. Literally. And, there is no way he wanted to be denied the Triple Crown after so narrowly missing with Real Quiet in 1998. The only issue I had with Kent’s ride was that he took Big Brown out wide in the first turn and kept him there. At some point, I would like to have seen him duck back inside behind Da’Tara to save ground (vitally important in a route of 1.5 miles). I understand why he took Big Brown out there (to steady him and get him to relax). I’m just not sure why he kept him there. However, remember, he’s not driving a car. He’s piloting a big, 4-legged, animal with a mind of his own. It ain’t easy.
TOZ: Was it the patched quarter crack on his left front hoof?
TH: Very doubtful. If that were the case, the problem would have shown up long before there was 5/8 mile of a mile to go. Most likely it would’ve manifested itself near the start (at the very least by the half-mile pole)
TOZ: What about the first turn, bumping with Anak Nakal?
TH: Well, keep in mind he (Big Brown) caused that bumping. I looked at the replay to see if they clipped heels. I thought that might be a factor. However, again, I think if it was, it would’ve manifested itself long before there was just a little over a half mile to go.
TOZ: What about Big Brown not getting his usual 15th of the month steroid injection?
TH: I think that could be a contributing factor, but I don’t think it’s the sole factor. Horses are creatures of habit (very much like cats in that respect). Any deviation to their routine can upset them. I remember John Servis talking about the great “Philly Flyer”, Smarty Jones routine. Whenever Smarty came on the track to warm up at Philadelphia Park, he had to walk to his left to the far turn, turn around and come back to start galloping clockwise around the oval. It’s just the way horses are. They’re used to training at certain times, eating at certain times, getting bathed at certain times, and getting injections, etc. at certain times. Any break in the routine is not good.
TOZ: Was it trainer Richard Dutrow’s decision to breeze him only once in the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont?
TH: No, I don’t think so. Keep in mind; he was the only horse in the Belmont field that had run all three Triple Crown events. So, he’s already fit and you would expect him to need less work to maintain his fitness level.
TOZ: OK, if it was none of those things, then what was it Unc…er…I mean, Team Haberle?
TH: Glad you finally asked the million dollar question, Nephew Stephen. Remember, one of the things that I said could stop Big Brown from winning the Triple Crown was injury. And, injury includes not just the obvious visible problems (like the catastrophic leg injury suffered by the late, great Barbaro), it includes internal injuries. His inability to fire when asked, and the way Desormeaux pulled him up, appears, to me, to be consistent with a horse bleeding into his lungs (and thereby substantially cutting off his air supply). Now, that is not unusual with thoroughbreds. And, it, generally, is not life-threatening. In fact, many trainers shoot their horses with phenylbutazone prior to races to keep them from bleeding into their lungs. I don’t know if Dutrow did this. And, even if he didn’t, it would be tough to criticize him for not doing so if the horse had never needed it before. Generally, you wouldn’t want to start a horse on a regimen of Bute right before a big race like the Belmont. So, bottom line, I think when everything comes out, we’ll find that Big Brown was not 100% or even close to it once he reached the mile pole.
TOZ: OK, well then, where does/should Big Brown from here?
TH: To join his buddy, Smarty Jones, at stud. What is the point of continuing to race him? The Triple Crown is over. His owners’ have already syndicated his breeding rights. What exactly is to be gained by running him in the Travers Stakes or the Breeders Cup? Sure, his stud fee (on a per cover basis) will be less than they would have been had he won the Triple Crown. But, his owners have pretty much amassed a fortune already with the syndication rights. Let Three Chimneys worry about the stud fees. Why risk injury to him? What would be the point? To prove the Belmont was a fluke? It’s not worth it IMHO.
‘Til next time.