Triple Crown: Big Brown

In June of 1978, Florida-trained thoroughbred Affirmed held off a late charge by Alydar and won the Belmont Stakes, securing the 11th Triple Crown in U.S. horse racing history. As Affirmed was the third Triple Crown winner in a six-year stretch, many horse racing enthusiasts had no reason to suspect that they wouldn’t see another one in the near future. But over 33 years later, there has been no horse able to match Affirmed’s perfect Triple Crown year…

33 Years of Heartbreak: The 12 Most Excruciating Near-Misses in the U.S. Thoroughbred Triple Crown Since 1978 – Part One of Six

Those wishing for the next ‘super horse’ were most recently heartbroken last year, when Shackleford held off Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom by a half-length in the 2011 Preakness Stakes, guaranteeing yet another year without a Triple Crown winner. On May 5, 2012, California-bred racer I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby in a 20-horse field, rallying past strong frontrunner Bodemeister in the final eighth. Only time will tell if I’ll Have Another will have enough in the tank to make Triple Crown history.

Although thoroughbred racing fans have undergone decades of chances and decades of disappointments, some horses have come agonizingly close to joining thoroughbred racing’s most prestigious club. Whether by bad weather, injury, the differing lengths of the “Big Three’s” tracks, or simply cruel fate, several horses have come within seconds, and sometimes inches (literally), of becoming legends. Here are the 12 most excruciating instances of what “might have been” since Affirmed’s Triple Crown.

12. Big Brown (2008)

The last horse to win the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, Big Brown was largely untested going into the 2008 Kentucky Derby, having only raced three times, winning all three. However, the bettors still placed him at a 2-1 favorite. Big Brown won easily, by 4 ¾ lengths over the filly Eight Belles (who was tragically euthanized after the race when her front ankles broke in the cool-down jog). In the Preakness, Big Brown was one of the largest favorites in the race’s history, at 1-5, meaning that a colossal 84% of the bettors were picking the New York-bred horse to win. He didn’t disappoint, winning by over 5 lengths and running his record to a perfect 5-0-0.

His status of favorite at the Belmont Stakes was guaranteed, but in the days leading up to the final Triple Crown race, a quarter-inch crack in his front left hoof was discovered. It was stitched shut with steel wire and it was determined that Big Brown was still ready for the Belmont after his workouts showed no ill effects. The morning of the Belmont, Big Brown was still a heavy favorite, at 3-10. Even with his injury, a whopping 77% of bet placers still believed that Big Brown would win the Triple Crown.

Early in the race, Big Brown had good placement but bumped into another horse swinging around the first turn. He never recovered his stride and fell back into the pack. On the homestretch, Big Brown had nothing left in reserve and was pulled up by jockey Kent Desormeaux when he felt something amiss with the horse. Because of this, Big Brown became the only horse in history to win the Derby and Preakness, only to finish last (or DNF) in the Belmont. A check of the horse after the race revealed nothing wrong, which led to widespread criticism of veteran jockey Desormeaux’s decision to pull Big Brown up. However, subsequent examination of race photographs revealed what appeared to be a loose shoe on Big Brown’s right rear hoof, which may have caused significant pain to the thoroughbred during the race. Big Brown bounced back to win the next two races he was entered in and was preparing for the upcoming Breeders’ Classic, but he sustained a hoof injury that October during a practice and was retired, never to race again. The Belmont was the only race that Big Brown participated in that he did not win.

Article Contributed by Gabriel Ruzin.

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