Affirmed remains the last horse to win the American Triple Crown after the glory bid of Big Brown was left in tatters following the Belmont Stakes in New York.
The previously unbeaten Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes hero was trying to become just the 12th horse to notch his name in US racing legend.
In sweltering temperatures, the Rick Dutrow-trained colt – racing with a slight quarter crack in his left front hoof – took a keen hold early on, appearing to run into the back of another horse, and was a spent force rounding the final turn where jockey Kent Desormeaux eased his mount to a virtual walk in front of the stands as he trailed in last.
Up front, long-time leader Da’Tara, trained by Nick Zito, kept up the gallop to readily beat Denis Of Cork in front of a crowd well in excess of 100,000.
A total of 11 horses have now won the first two races in the Classic trilogy since Affirmed in 1978 but all have failed to add the Belmont, which is run over a gruelling mile and a half, a distance foreign to most top-class horses in the States.
Desormeaux said: “He was keen but I got him out early and we just cantered along down the backside. There were a couple of times he thought it was time to go and jumped into the bridle, but long before we went into the last turn I had no horse.
“This horse is the best I have ever ridden and something is wrong so I took care of him. I have no idea (what went wrong),” he told ESPN.
Veterinarian Dr Larry Bramlage said: “Of course the first thing you expect is that something is wrong but the veterinarian inspection team didn’t find anything wrong with him. His feet looked OK and he was not lame when he stopped here in front of the stands.
“They will go over him and look to see if there is a physical problem, some reason why he didn’t feel like running today. He is a very intelligent horse and he may know of something but we couldn’t see anything outwardly.”
Da’Tara’s win marked the second time that Zito has dashed the dreams of a Triple Crown as he also saddled Birdstone to edge out Smarty Jones in 2004.
The winner was a newcomer on the Triple Crown circuit after skipping both the Derby and Preakness. He came in with little hope, finishing over 23 lengths behind Big Brown in the Florida Derby in March.
While Da’Tara crashed the Triple Crown party, many will start questioning if Big Brown, who won his first five career starts by a combined 39 lengths, should even have been running.
After developing the quarter crack, Big Brown missed some training time before returning to the track, but Dutrow and hoof specialist Ian McKinlay, who applied a patch to Big Brown’s injury Friday, insisted the bay colt was healthy entering the ’Test of the Champion’.