Big Brown's racing career ended Monday when the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner injured his right front foot during a workout at Aqueduct Race Course in New York. Michael Iavarone of IEAH Stables, co-owners of Big Brown, said the 3-year-old colt tore a three-inch piece of flesh off the foot after it collided with his right rear foot while working over Aqueduct's turf course with stablemate Kip Deville.
"This was a complete fluke," Iavarone said. "He hadn't had issues with his feet for awhile and to have him come up just like this was a shock to all of us."
Iavarone said the injury would take around two months to heal, making it impossible for Big Brown to run in The Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita. With the strapping bay due at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky. by the end of the year to begin his stud career, Iavarone said there simply isn't enough time to get Big Brown back on the track one last time.
"We don't have a choice but to retire him," Iavarone said. "It's gut-wrenching."
The injury itself isn't life-threatening, Iavarone said, but added it's important to make sure infection doesn't set in while he recovers.
"I expect the next few days to be pretty rough on him," Iavarone said. "We've got to take care of him."
Iavarone watched from the backstretch at Aqueduct while Big Brown completed the six-furlong work and thought his horse was ready for a possible shot at reigning Horse of the Year Curlin in the BC Classic until Iavarone returned to the barn and saw the troubled look on trainer Rick Dutrow's face.
"It looks like he grabbed himself in a bad spot," Dutrow said.
Big Brown will spend several weeks in New York while he recovers before being shipped to Three Chimneys. The injury caps a brilliant but somewhat controversial career for Big Brown, who won seven times in eight starts, including dominant runs in the Derby and the Preakness, and earned $3.6 million.
His bid to become the first Triple Crown champion since 1978 ended during a bizarre Belmont Stakes in which he was eased by jockey Kent Desormeaux at the turn and he trotted across the finish line far behind the rest of the field.
The Belmont came after Dutrow admitted he took Big Brown off the anabolic steroid Winstrol, though Dutrow claimed the decision had nothing to do with Big Brown's poor performance. The horse was also dealing with a painful quarter crack in his left front hoof. That injury is unrelated to the one he sustained Monday.
Big Brown bounced back from the Belmont with wins in the Haskell Invitational and the Monmouth Stakes and was poised for a shot at Curlin, horse racing's all-time leading money winner. Not anymore, a fact that "saddened" Curlin's majority owner Jess Jackson.
"I am equally disappointed that Big Brown and Curlin will never compete against each other," Jackson said in a release. "It was a dream of mine and thousands of other fans of the sport."
Instead, Big Brown will head to a potentially lucrative stud career. Case Clay, president of Three Chimneys, said he's unsure when his newest star would arrive at the farm in central Kentucky.
"We're just going to let the horse kind of dictate that, let him heal from his foot injury and whenever he's healed and ready, he'll come," Clay said.
The injury could also affect Big Brown's stud fee. The farm negotiated a breeding deal reportedly worth $50 million. A win in the BC Classic could have upped the asking price, though Clay is sure Big Brown will still command a high-dollar fee.
"He's the best of his generation," Clay said. "I think his stud fee will be different than if he won the Classic, what that'll be, I'm not sure."
Big Brown isn't the first star 3-year-old to miss the BC Classic due to injury. Smarty Jones, who won the Derby and Preakness in 2004, missed the Classic that year with a bruised foot and retired to Three Chimneys. Also, Mineshaft missed the 2003 Classic as a 4-year-old due to a minor ankle injury.
Racing officials were hoping a duel between Big Brown and Curlin would provide the sport with a little public relations boost right in the middle of football season. The sport has struggled along with the economic downturn, with both wagering and purses down during the third quarter according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
Breeders' Cup president Greg Avioli said Big Brown's health was the highest priority.
"We are disappointed that Big Brown will not be able to compete in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic but are glad to hear that he is expected to make a full recovery from the injury he sustained earlier today," Avioli said.
Big Brown's retirement leaves the spotlight squarely on Curlin, who became the first North American horse to eclipse $10 million in earnings with a victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park last month.
Curlin is already at Santa Anita. He was scheduled to have a five-furlong work over the track's artificial surface Monday.