History and Tragedy at Kentucky Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As he pulled away from the field, Big Brown accelerated with each mighty stride toward the finish line in the Kentucky Derby. On their feet was an enthusiastic crowd of 157,770 cheering as the muscular, undefeated bay crossed the finish line first, four and three quarters (4 3/4) lengths ahead of the filly Eight Belles.

Thousands of happy bettors, along with trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. continued celebrating, as Big Brown and nineteen other horses in Saturday’s race galloped around the first turn at Churchill Downs.

Though it took some moments to sink in, anyone watching the horses realized soon enough that one of them had fallen to the track.

The Filly went down about a quarter mile past the finish line.

Just like that, in a flash, the exhilaration of the always exciting Kentucky Derby and the hopes of a new Triple Crown season were upended when Eight Belles had to be euthanized via injection right on the track. An incredibly sad and sobering fact. Poor Eight Belles had broken both front ankles. She could not be saved. Tragic.

An explosive finishing kick put away Big Brown’s rivals for his fourth consecutive victory. Big Brown did everything his owner said he would do.

Meantime, Eight Belles was attempting to become the fourth filly to win the Derby. Her owners chose to keep her out of Friday’s Kentucky Oaks so she could run with the boys in the Derby. And run she did.

Big Brown’s start from the outside post did little to hinder his explosive charge when the field turned for home. Under the skillful urging of jockey Desormeaux, the 2 to 1 favorite cruised to an easy victory to become the seventh undefeated Kentucky Derby winner. The last one was Barbaro in 2006.

This horse showed you his heart. Eight Belles showed you her life for our enjoyment today. I’m deeply sympathetic to that team for their loss.

Kent Desormeaux
Kentucky Derby winning jockey

Thoughts of Barbaro Couldn’t be ignored this Derby Day

The horrible breakdown harkened back to the 2006 Preakness, where Barbaro shattered his right rear leg just after the start. The colt was euthanized some months later, after developing laminitis from the catastrophic injuries.

Big Brown will race in two weeks in the Preakness Stakes as the only 3-year-old with a chance to become the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.

Big Brown’s Dutrow: “We’re ready to roll”

All week, Dutrow told the world he had the best horse in the field, and the big bay colt justified every plaudit tossed his way.

“I can’t describe the feeling that all of us have right now,” Dutrow said.

The colt became the first Derby winner since Regret in 1915 to have raced only three times previously. He is only the 3rd in 60 years to win after racing in just two Derby preps: Sunny’s Halo in 1983 and Street Sense last year were the others. In addition, Big Brown became the second winner to start from the No. 20 post. The gelding Clyde Van Dusen did it in 1929.

Big Brown covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.82 in front of the second-largest crowd in Derby history. He paid $6.80, $5 and $4.80.

Eight Belles paid $10.60 and $6.40, and Denis of Cork, at odds of 27-1, returned $11.60.

Dr. Larry Bramlage, Kentucky Derby’s on-call veterinarian, said the filly’s injuries were too severe to even attempt to move her off the track.

She didn’t have a front leg to stand on to be splinted and hauled off in the ambulance, so she was euthanized

Dr. Larry Bramlage
Kentucky Derby On-call Veternarian

Trainer Larry Jones paid tribute to his fallen filly saying, “She ran the race of her life.” He also defended having her run against 19 colts in the Derby. “It wasn’t that. It wasn’t the distance. It wasn’t a big bumping match for her. She never got touched,” he said. “She passed all those questions … with flying colors. The race was over, all we had to do was pull up, come back and be happy. It just didn’t happen.”

Tale of Ekati was fourth, followed by Recapturetheglory, Colonel John, Anak Nakal, Pyro, Cowboy Cal, Z Fortune, Smooth Air, Visionaire, Court Vision, Z Humor, Cool Coal Man, Bob Black Jack, Gayego, Big Truck, Adriano and Monba.

The colt earned $1,451,800 for the win and boosted his earnings to $2,114,500 for owners IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa Jr. Pompa, who named Big Brown in honor of United Parcel Service, a client of his trucking business, sold a 75 percent interest in the colt to IEAH for about $3 million after his first race.

This was Desormeaux’s third win for the Derby, having won aboard Real Quiet in 1998 and Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. Only three other riders have won more: Eddie Arcaro, Bill Hartack and Bill Shoemaker.

Said Desormeaux: “It was smooth sailing all the way. The horse was very comfortable.”

Big Brown was the third favorite to win in the past five years. Smarty Jones won in 2004 and Street Sense won last year.

Kentucky Derby 2008

All eyes were on Big Brown at the start. Dutrow called his colt the fastest of all and he proved it when Desormeaux gunned him close the lead on the mad dash to the first turn. Desormeaux did a masterful job of keeping Big Brown free and clear of any traffic issues.

As the field headed into the backstretch, Big Brown was in sixth place and waiting for Desormeaux’s signal to make his move. It came around the far turn, and Big Brown took the lead at the top of the stretch and was never challenged to the wire.

“I don’t even know what we just did,” Dutrow said. “I can’t express my feelings, only that it was one of the most incredible feelings I ever had, and I can’t wait to feel it again.”

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