Turning letdown into lessons

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

BELMONT, N.Y. -- Maybe Big Brown's Triple Crown wasn't such a disaster after all.

In fact, maybe those who run the sport will finally stop running it into the ground. Maybe, just maybe, the dopes in charge will run the dopers out of the business and at least attempt to halt the long, steady decline of the once grand game.

Big Brown's bid to become the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years, the one that ended in a dead-last collapse in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, brought massive attention to the sport.

It's always that way when a horse has a shot at the big prize. But this year was different. This year racing was under the spotlight for too many of the wrong reasons.

The transgressions of Big Brown's trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. are lengthy -- from his own battles with drugs, to multiple suspensions for racing horses on illegal performance-enhancers, to boasting about regular use of anabolic steroids.

Unfortunately (and incredibly) the latter is implicitly encouraged in racing, with most jurisdictions allowing them. It has only been because of Dutrow's open talk about the anabolic Winstrol, the same jet fuel that made Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson go so fast, that serious questions are being asked.

There are any number of explanations for why Big Brown crashed so hard, coming up empty in the biggest moment of an otherwise brilliant career. The Dutrow camp had no answers after the race and again yesterday as the horse appeared healthy and sound.

It is only natural then, that other conclusions are considered. One of the biggest and most controversial is that Big Brown was suffering withdrawal from the juice.

The morning prior to the Belmont, Dutrow said his horse hadn't been given a shot since April 15, more than two weeks before the Kentucky Derby. Previously, he was given one dose a month throughout his career.

No one knows for certain, but it is not unreasonable to suggest that if he had steroids in his system for previous wins the absence of them in the Belmont would have some effect.

Even without an answer, the optics are ugly, the reason racing jurisdictions across North America are scrambling to ban the drugs. Ten states have already done so, but steroids are still legal in the three Triple Crown states -- New York, Maryland and Kentucky -- as well as in Ontario.

That rules are made state by state or province by province is itself a joke. As retired jockey Jerry Bailey prior to the Preakness, racing is "the most dysfunctional industry in sports."

Track owners are at war with each other over simulcasting signals while betting suffers alarming drops. The breeding industry has issues, accused by some of focused on producing animals with an emphasis on flashy speed rather than soundness and durability.

Maybe after a five-week Triple Crown run that was as much a three-ring circus, racing will start to get its act together. Maybe, like in sports such as baseball, cycling and track and field, hard questions about drug use will be addressed rather than ignored. Maybe for those who care about the sport and the animals that run in it, Dutrow can be thanked.

BOOED AND HECKLED

As classless in defeat as he was in victory, Dutrow opted not to show up at his Belmont Park barn to check on his horse yesterday. Unlike four years ago when Smarty Jones lost his bid for a Crown and trainer John Servis was cast as a sympathetic figure, few were feeling sorry for Dutrow.

As he walked back to the barn, he was booed and heckled by the notoriously tough New York crowd. Sure some were just disgruntled betters, but the catcalls had extra venom. Why did you run a horse with an injured hoof? Why do you dope them with drugs? Put your money where your boastful mouth is.

"Basically what he was saying about my horse was that he is a (piece of crap)," David Carroll, the trainer of runner-up Denis of Cork told the Louisville Courier-Journal on Saturday, in reference to Dutrow's ridiculing of the rest of the Belmont field.

"It rubbed me the wrong way. There's a right way to win and a wrong way to win."


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