Big Brown hangs out in his paddock at Three Chimneys in May 2012
In the 2008 Florida Derby, the racing world saw a flash of brilliance when a bay colt with a white “speed spot” (marking) on his shoulder won his only Kentucky Derby prep by five lengths, stamping his ticket to the Derby.
Big Brown went into the Kentucky Derby as the 2.40-to-1 favorite after winning his first three starts by 29 combined lengths. While the colt was looking to be the first horse since 1929 to win the Derby from the 20th starting position, that didn’t stop him. In a bittersweet Kentucky Derby, Big Brown beat ill-fated filly Eight Belles by 4 ¾ lengths to become the first undefeated winner since Smarty Jones.
BIG BROWN WINNING THE 2008 KENTUCKY DERBY
Photo courtesy Horsephotos.com
Big Brown rolled on to Baltimore after the race in an attempt to become the first Derby-Preakness winner in four years. He ran a little green in the stretch, drifting toward the center of the track but he was so far ahead of the field that it didn’t matter. He beat second-place finisher Macho Again by 5 ¼ lengths and looked like he was going into the Belmont Stakes with plenty of energy left.
The win wasn’t just satisfying for the colt and jockey but also for Three Chimneys Farm. Big Brown’s majority owner, International Equine Acquisitions Holdings Inc., announced only hours before the Preakness that a deal had been made for Big Brown to stand at the farm at the conclusion of his 3-year-old season.
With his future secured, it looked like Big Brown had everything going for him in the Belmont Stakes. The closest any horse had gotten to beating Big Brown was coming within 4 ¾ lengths of him, and it looked like no one would be able to stop him in his bid to become the first Triple Crown winner in exactly 30 years. Even with a lingering quarter crack, Big Brown looked as close to a sure thing as one can get in horse racing.
Within seconds of breaking from the Belmont gate, it was clear that it wouldn’t be Big Brown’s race. The colt quickly ran up on the heels of leader Da’ Tara and never really settled. But even more shocking than the colt’s rank attitude was Desormeaux’s decision to pull him up at the top of the stretch in front of a crowd of 94,476 fans. It was the first time a Triple Crown hopeful finished last, as he registered a “did not finish” on the race chart.
“He was empty. He didn't have anything left,” Desormeaux told the Associated Press after the race. “There's no popped tires. He's just out of gas.”
Big Brown was given two months off after his Belmont loss and came back in the Haskell Invitational Stakes on Aug. 3. While he was tested more than he had ever been in a winning run, he reeled in Coal Play in the stretch to win by 1 ¾ lengths. Even though he won one of the two major preps for the race, Big Brown skipped the Travers Stakes at Saratoga later in the month.
Instead, Big Brown returned to the grass for his next start, the surface upon which he won his debut the previous September. Big Brown stayed undefeated on the surface when he went wire-to-wire in the race, winning by a neck over multiple graded stakes winner Proudinsky.
Big Brown looked set to have a showdown with the previous year’s Horse of the Year, Curlin, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic after the victory. The matchup had been a point of discussion for many fans throughout the year and excitement was building over a race that could determine the 2008 Horse of the Year, but everything came to a halt in mid-October.
After breezing on Oct. 13, trainer Rick Dutrow noted an injury as Big Brown returned to the barn. It was discovered that he had ripped off a chunk of his hoof during the workout and he was retired when it was determined that he wouldn’t be able to return to the track as a 3-year-old. The colt left the track with a record of seven wins in eight starts and subsequently earned the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.
Big Brown started his career as a stallion in 2009 for a stud fee of $65,000. His first crop is his only crop to race (as of May 14, none of his current 2-year-olds has started) but with limited runners last year, he finished 11th on the first-crop sire list. As of May 14, Big Brown is sitting in the eighth spot on the second-crop sire list with Brown Almighty and Bella Castani as his leading lifetime U.S. earners.
In 2012, Big Brown took a break from shuttling to Australia, where he had stood at Vinery Australia during the Southern Hemisphere breeding season since 2010. However, the stallion is set to return to Vinery in 2013. His first crop in that country is set to hit the track later this year and, like in the United States, their debut is eagerly anticipated after promising sales results.
While Vinery is in a stage where Big Brown is looking to prove himself on their turf, at Three Chimneys the stallion has had a bigger impact on the farm than just in the breeding shed.
“Big Brown has been an integral part of Three Chimneys brand the past five years,” said Jen Roytz, Three Chimneys’ marketing and communications director. “It’s always fun to have a big name horse that we can share with fans, especially one with such a cool, personable demeanor, but he’s been just as impactful in the breeding shed.
“He had the highest priced 2-year-old sold at public auction in 2012 and has had a number of extremely impressive first-out winners, repeat winners and stakes winners like Brown Almighty and Bella Castani, in addition to Apollo Sonic, who just lost by a nose in the Japanese Derby Trial and will be pointing at the Japanese Derby with a great shot of winning.”
BIG BROWN'S BROWN ALMIGHTY EXERCISING AT THE BREEDERS' CUP
Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire
Big Brown seems just as eager to do his new jobs at the farm, as both an ambassador and breeding stallion, as he was to race on the track.
“He’s got a great temperament and is the kind of horse that’s easily engaged and equally engaging,” Roytz said. “He’s got … how shall I say it … a passion for the ladies, so he can be a bit of a handful when the mood strikes him. That’s his job though, and it’s good to be passionate about what you do, right? We often have large groups here to tour the stallion division, and it seems like when he’s in front of an audience he exudes this uniquely calm confidence.”
While many Kentucky Derby winners lose some of their popularity as the years go on, five years after Big Brown’s Triple Crown bid, he is still as popular as ever. While the stallion’s charisma obviously plays a big part in his popularity, the growth of social media and Three Chimneys’ use of the platform have helped fans stay connected to the horse.
“It seems like Big Brown is actually gaining popularity with fans, rather than fading from memory as other horses might,” said Rotyz. “We feature him prominently on our social media sites and allow visitors full access to him in his day-to-day setting, letting them see how physically impressive he is and what a cool horse he’s turned out to be.”
FANS SURROUND BIG BROWN AT A THREE CHIMNEYS OPEN HOUSE
In 2012, Big Brown bred 141 mares, proving that fans aren’t the only ones remembering the success the big bay had on the track. When racing reflects back on the first decade of the 2000s, he will always be one of the first names that come to mind.