Dutrow's thin brown hair was soaked. His blue shirt soggy. His hopes for history lost. Banished with the loss of a Triple Crown. Da' Tara, trained by Nick Zito and a 38-1 shot, went straight to the lead out of the starting gate yesterday and wired the field, winning in 2 minutes, 29.65 seconds and paying $79. Behind him, coming out of the turn for home, jockey Kent Desormeaux shocked a surprisingly small announced crowd of 94,476 at Belmont Park by pulling up Big Brown and easing home far behind the rest of the field.
For Zito, who said he has made his living pulling upsets and playing the game no matter what the odds, it was the second time in five years one of his horses has stopped a Triple Crown bid. Birdstone beat the undefeated Smarty Jones in 2004.
"I got no idea what happened," Dutrow said an hour after the race. "I was looking for a problem, and so far I can't see a problem."
Dutrow said because he can see nothing wrong with Big Brown, he will scope him as a precautionary measure.
"I don't know what else to do to see if anything else is wrong," Dutrow said. "The horse kind of looks like he's fine to me."
Big Brown, 5-0 before yesterday, was attempting to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. And his trainer had said on a daily basis that he could not imagine his horse losing.
"It's a foregone conclusion," he said several times, adding, "We're running against not very good horses, and he's a very good horse."
Those comments were on the mind of trainer David Carroll yesterday after Denis of Cork came home second, 5 1/4 lengths behind Da' Tara.
"I'm not one little bit [sorry]," Carroll said when asked whether he felt bad for the crowd that had come to the track hoping to see a Triple Crown winner. "There is a right way of doing things and a wrong way. You win with class. You lose with class. I feel bad for the horse, but [Dutrow] basically called my horse a [expletive deleted] and I didn't like that."
Zito was kinder, saying that when Big Brown is on his game, "he is a special horse. The champ, Big Brown, didn't run his race today. He wasn't himself, and Da' Tara was."
Da' Tara, a son of Tiznow, came into the Belmont off a second-place finish in the Barbaro Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Preakness Day. The victory was his first since breaking his maiden in January at Gulfstream Park.
Yesterday, Dutrow said he didn't know exactly how he felt, but even on a disappointing day the trainer found reason to be happy.
"We did really good with him," Dutrow said of his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. "It was a very disappointing race, but the horse looks like he's fine. Right now I can say it looks like he'll live a good life, even if he never races again.
"For him to be pulled up in a race, something has to not be right, so I have to try to find out what it is. I'm sure it's not the horse's fault, so there's nothing to be down on him about."
A share of Big Brown's breeding rights has already been sold for a reported $50 million, and his owners, IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa Jr., have said the future stallion will run twice more this year, in the Travers Stakes and in the Breeders' Cup Classic, if he is healthy.
Last night, Big Brown's racing future was unclear, but Dutrow said: "If he checks out 100 percent, we'll get him back into training. We'll go forward with him. If not, I'm sure we'll just do the next thing, which is to retire him.
"He's in good shape. He's OK. And we're very, very proud of him."
Big Brown broke well from the gate but ran into early trouble approaching Turn 1 when he ran up behind Tale of Ekati and Desormeaux was forced to pull him up sharply.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Desormeaux, who had faced strong criticism after he lost a Triple Crown bid on Real Quiet in 1998, rode a masterful race.
"Kent had to take hold of him there and he had a really good grip on him," Lukas said. "It wasn't tight enough to bother him, but it enabled him to settle in and get a perfect position. But the horse came up empty at the five-eighths pole. I think when Kent saw he wasn't going to finish 1-2-3-4, as hard as it was, he decided to wait another day."
Lukas suggested a change in Big Brown's training caused by a quarter crack in his left front hoof might have made the difference, but Dutrow brushed aside the suggestion.
"I can't believe missing three days made any difference at all to him," he said. "I just don't see it."
Desormeaux also didn't know what was wrong with Big Brown, who always in the past had responded like a machine, moving on command, and Desormeaux did not want to risk injury to the horse.
It was a conservative move but a reasonable one, given the recent events in major thoroughbred races.
Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was catastrophically injured in the 2006 Preakness, two-time European champion George Washington had to be euthanized after breaking a leg in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic, and second-place finisher Eight Belles had to be euthanized after the filly shattered both her front ankles in this year's Derby.
"He was keen to go early on," Desormeaux said. "He broke so hard. I got him out early and just cantered down the backside. A couple of times he thought it was time to go and jumped into the bridle. But [when asked] I had no horse, and when I realized something was wrong, I knew he wouldn't be fifth.
"He's the best horse I've ever been on, so I took care of him."