The morning after the Belmont Stakes, Big Brown stopped to pose for photographers as if he had won the Triple Crown. Everyone except the horse knew otherwise.
Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. was a no-show, leaving questions and few answers about what happened to Big Brown in Saturday's 1 1/2-mile Belmont. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was eased up by jockey Kent Desormeaux in the stretch, ending up last, beaten by eight other horses.
The bay colt faced the cameras alone Sunday, except for exercise rider Michelle Nevin _ and she wasn't talking.
Outwardly, Big Brown appeared no worse for wear. He got his morning bath outside Barn 2, playfully nipping at a leather lead held by Nevin. Then she led him in circles around the inside of the barn, with Big Brown walking perfectly on his patched left front hoof.
Co-owner Michael Iavarone said Big Brown had a thorough examination after the race and again Sunday morning.
"There's nothing physically that's shown up," he said, speaking by cell phone from his daughter's soccer game on Long Island. "I'm as confused as anybody. The only thing we're resorting to right now is the track might have been too deep for him and he didn't like it out there."
Iavarone said Big Brown's problem feet, other than a loose left hind shoe, were not an issue.
"We're perplexed," he said. "Nobody can figure this one out."
Without any obvious answers, it might take blood work and diagnostic testing, including X-rays, to figure out Big Brown's poor performance.
Dutrow was criticized after acknowledging he used an anabolic steroid on Big Brown, then said last week that the horse hadn't had a dose of Winstrol since April. It's known to increase appetite and promote weight gain and healing. The drug is legal in the three states where the Triple Crown races are run.
"I doubt if that comes up to be the answer," Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian, said after the race. "It's not that kind of situation where it's going to be a stimulant for him. The anabolic steroids keeps him eating and keeps him happy and keeps him aggressive, all of which he showed all week long."
Horse racing's national regulatory authority has proposed a steroid ban, and so far 10 states have adopted it. It's under consideration in 11 others.
"By this time next year, steroids will be banned from horse racing competition," Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said Sunday. "The Big Brown campaign only underscores the need to act to ensure the safety of the horses and to remove any suspicion concerning steroid involvement with our stars."
Big Brown was running on a quarter crack in his left front hoof that wasn't patched until Friday, but Dutrow insisted all last week that it was a "non-issue."
Nevertheless, it cost the colt three days of training between the Preakness and the Belmont. Big Brown wasn't trained very hard leading up to the longest and toughest of the three classics, either.
Desormeaux said afterward that Big Brown "was in no way, shape or form lame or sore."
On the advice of Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, Dutrow had said he was going to reduce Big Brown's dose of electrolytes, which are salts such as sodium, chloride and potassium that help prevent dehydration. It wasn't clear whether he followed through on that plan before the Belmont.
Dutrow didn't immediately return a phone message left Sunday by The Associated Press.
Big Brown ran on Lasix, a legal anti-bleeding medication that can cause a horse to become dehydrated. Highs were in the 90s and there was oppressive humidity Saturday. Several horses throughout the day were sweating excessively and needed to be cooled off with buckets of water and sprayed with hoses after they ran.
Iavarone said that unless something shows up, Big Brown will maintain his training schedule and be pointed toward the Travers Stakes in August at Saratoga.
"I love this horse," he said. "I've grown tremendously attached to this horse emotionally. I wanted him to know he could run dead last or first and we would still love him."
Big Brown, of course, is worth millions to Iavarone and his other two owners. They've already locked up an estimated $50 million deal for his breeding rights with Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky.
Like everyone else, rival trainer Nick Zito could see that Big Brown didn't show up on racing's biggest stage.
"He wasn't making his move," said Zito, who saddled 38-1 long shot Da' Tara to a 5 1/4-length upset. "Especially the way Ricky talks, I knew I was in pretty good shape."
Dutrow had spent the five weeks between the Derby and Belmont bragging about Big Brown's superiority and telling everyone how weak the competition was. He proclaimed that it was "a foregone conclusion" his colt would win the Belmont and become racing's first Triple Crown winner in 30 years.
"I saw why he said that in the Derby and the Preakness," Zito said. "He knew he had something on his hands that was really tremendous."
In a sport built on baloney, no one dished it better than Dutrow. But his bluster came back to bite him.
"If I could give him one thing that he could change, just don't say anything about the horse," Zito said. "Say something about me or somebody else or whatever. But don't say nothing about the other horses, because that will get you in trouble."
Casino Drive, the Japanese horse considered to be Big Brown's main rival, was scratched the morning of the Belmont because of a bruised left hind hoof.
"He looks OK. He's still not 100 percent," said Nobutaka Tada, racing manager for the colt's owner and trainer. "He's being careful when he steps. He's getting well, but we have to be careful."
Tada said undefeated Casino Drive would be put on a 14-hour flight back to Japan on Tuesday, and likely return in the fall to run in the Breeders' Cup Classic in California, where steroids are outlawed.
"I hope many people here remember Casino Drive," Tada said.
Dutrow may be hoping for the same thing about vanquished Big Brown.