Injury propels Big Brown into early retirement


Kent Desormeaux rides Big Brown to victory in the 134th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. on May 3. Big Brown injured his right front foot during a workout Monday, which is forcing him into retirement. Darron Cummings, The Associated Press

By Will Graves

There was nothing little about Big Brown’s racing career.

From his overpowering victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness to his spectacular flop in the Belmont as he bid for a Triple Crown, Big Brown and his entourage – including his maverick owner and outspoken trainer – simply didn’t do subtle.

Yet less than two weeks away from his final race, the brilliant champion with brittle feet ended his career not with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita but in front of a few stunned onlookers at Aqueduct following an otherwise routine workout.

Michael Iavarone of IEAH Stables, co-owner of Big Brown, said his horse tore a three-inch piece of flesh off the foot after it collided with his right rear foot while working over Aqueduct’s turf course with stablemate Kip Deville.

“This was a complete fluke,” Iavarone said. “He hadn’t had issues with his feet for a while and to have him come up just like this was a shock to all of us.”

The injury could take at least two months to heal, making it impossible for Big Brown to run in the BC Classic on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita. Big Brown is due at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., by the end of the year to begin his stud career, preventing him from getting back on the track one last time.

“We don’t have a choice but to retire him,” Iavarone said. “It’s gut-wrenching.”

The injury itself isn’t life-threatening, Iavarone said, but added it’s important to make sure infection doesn’t set in while he recovers.

“I expect the next few days to be pretty rough on him,” Iavarone said. “We’ve got to take care of him.”

Iavarone watched from the backstretch at Aqueduct while Big Brown completed the six-furlong work and thought his horse was ready for a possible shot at reigning Horse of the Year Curlin in the BC Classic until Iavarone returned to the barn and saw the troubled look on trainer Rick Dutrow’s face.

“It looks like he grabbed himself in a bad spot,” Dutrow said.

Big Brown will spend several weeks in New York while he recovers before being shipped to Three Chimneys.

The injury caps a dazzling but somewhat controversial career for Big Brown, who won seven times in eight starts, including dominant runs in the Derby and the Preakness, and earned $3.6 million.

Yet it could be Big Brown’s lone loss that may define him.

Following remarkably easy wins in the Derby and the Preakness by a combined 9 3/4 lengths, Big Brown headed to the Belmont primed to end a 30-year Triple Crown drought.

Dutrow seemed to have no doubt. He spent the days leading up to the race boasting his horse was the class of the field, even after admitting he took Big Brown off the anabolic steroid Winstrol and limited the colt’s training as he dealt with a quarter crack in his left front hoof that required a patch to be placed on it the day before the race.

The public seemed nearly as confident as Dutrow, sending Big Brown out as a heavy favorite at sweltering Belmont.

It never happened.

The loss led to speculation that Big Brown was simply a byproduct of Dutrow’s aggressive – though legal at the time – use of steroids.

Iavarone responded to the criticism by announcing IEAH was banning the use of all unnecessary medication and that Big Brown’s victories were a product of talent, not better racing through chemistry.