The Triple Crown drama took a turn worthy of a Dick Francis novel over the weekend when Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner Big Brown developed a quarter-crack in his left front hoof. In two weeks Big Brown is scheduled to run in the Belmont Stakes. If he wins he'll become the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years. But winning the Triple Crown, three races in five weeks for 3-year-olds starting with the Kentucky Derby, continuing with the Preakness and ending with the Belmont Stakes, remains among the most difficult accomplishments in the sports world.
The Belmont Stakes always has built-in dramatic interest because it's the last remaining measure of the soundness of the best racehorses in the United States. The Belmont is contested at the demanding distance of 1 1/2 miles, a route which was once considered the "classic" length that seperated the champions, prized for their durability and strength, from the lesser horses who could run quickly over shorter races but tired when asked to stay a distance of ground. It is unlikely that any of the horses who compete in the Belmont will ever be asked to run at this distance again.
Thoroughbred racing in the United States has changed since the 1970s, emphasizing speed over stamina in the breed and allowing medications on race day to ease pain and help breathing that were once outlawed. Many have argued that these practices have produced crops of thoroughbreds with increasing genetic defects that make them prone to breaking down and suffering career or life threatening injuries. Big Brown himself has a history of foot problems that have limited his ability to race in his short but brilliant career.
If he were not competing for the Triple Crown Big Brown's injury might well have sidelined him for a considerable time while the hoof is allowed to heal completely. As it is, the crack, described as "slight" in a Belmont Park press release this morning, could respond to treatment in time for the horse to be at his best in the Belmont, no more serious than a split toenail might be to a runner. Or it could become worse. The worst-case scenario with a quarter crack is that it could develop into a case of laminitis, a hoof condition which can be fatal.
Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. has guided Big Brown successfully through his previous foot problems and expressed confidence that the colt would be “100 percent” on June 7., when the 140th edition of the Belmont will be contested.
“We didn’t know until Saturday that it was a quarter-crack,” said Dutrow, who said he first noticed an issue with the colt’s hoof Friday afternoon. “It scares us this happened, but this has nothing to do with his ability to finish what he started.
“It’s bad it happened, but it’s good it happened now. He’s going to be OK.”
Big Brown remained in his barn Saturday and Sunday under the care of hoof specialist Ian McKinlay.
“This is a very, very minor crack,” said McKinlay, who said the crack was about five-eighths of an inch long. “We will put a set of wires in and patch it up.”
McKinlay is treating Big Brown’s hoof with a solution of iodine and alcohol and will patch the hoof Monday with a set of wires and mesh.
“The horse is doing fine, he’s eating up, he’s walking the shedrow two times a day,” said Dutrow. “If the race was today, or yesterday, or tomorrow, it would not be an issue. Because we have the time we’ve addressed the issue the right way.”
Dutrow said plans were going forward for Big Brown to breeze Saturday as he prepares for his attempt to become the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown.
“Ian keeps telling me it’s nothing and he’ll be fine in a couple of days, that he will be able to fix it up by Thursday,” said Dutrow. “I am sure he will be 100 percent, yes. If we get to breeze him Tuesday or Belmont week, or even Wednesday, we can live with that. Monday would be great, as long as Ian can get it done the right way.”