(AP) Big Brown backed up his trainer's boasts with an explosive finishing kick and won the Kentucky Derby on Saturday - a day marred by the fatal breakdown of the filly Eight Belles.
The cheers for the winner's decisive victory were cut short when Eight Belles, the runner-up, was euthanized on the track minutes after the race when she collapsed with two broken front ankles.
The unbeaten Big Brown took charge when the 20-horse field turned for home. Under the urging of jockey Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown cruised to a 4¾-length victory to become the seventh unbeaten Derby winner with his fourth consecutive win. The last one was Barbaro in 2006.
The field of 20 horses was galloping out around the first turn at Churchill Downs when Eight Belles suddenly went down on both front legs and jockey Gabriel Saez slid off.
"When we passed the wire I stood up," said Saez, a first-time Derby rider. "She started galloping funny. I tried to pull her up. That's when she went down."
An equine ambulance reached her on the track and put Eight Belles down.
"There was no possible way to save her," on-call veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage said. "She broke both front ankles. That's a bad injury." Big Brown, with jockey Kent Desormeaux in charge, won the race by four and three-quarters lengths with Eight Belles second and Denis of Cork third.
Trainer Larry Jones and owner Rick Porter decided to run Eight Belles against the boys in America's greatest race despite her never having done so before. She also was entered in Friday's Kentucky Oaks for fillies, but instead Jones won that race with Proud Spell and set himself up to pull off the double.
Eight Belles was the first filly since 1999 to run in the Derby; the last to win was Winning Colors in 1988. She didn't press 2-1 favorite Big Brown down the stretch, and he drew away to a 4¾-length victory.
Still, Eight Belles was a sentimental pick by 157,770 fans, second-largest crowd in Derby history. She repaid their support by returning $10.60 and $6.40 for a $2 win ticket.