On Saturday, June 7, 2008, the sport of horse racing was set to watch the running of the Belmont Stakes with the hope that favorite, Big Brown, would become horse racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner. Big Brown was the overwhelming favorite to win the race and become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown. The excitement had been building quickly after Big Brown ran away from his competition in the Preakness three weeks earlier. Even though he had been treated for a crack in his hoof, Big Brown’s trainer, Rick Dutrow, was more than confident that he would easily defeat his competition. In fact, he was so convinced that Big Brown would easily win the race that during an interview, he “guaranteed victory”.
Dutrow was not the first athlete, coach or trainer to claim victory before the competition began. Perhaps the most famous of all guarantees came in Super Bowl III from New York Jets quarterback, Joe Namath. He promised the Jets would defeat the Baltimore Colts and become world champions, and as we know, they did.
But, have you ever wondered what would have happened to Namath’s career had the Jets lost? Over the years, many other athletes have promised a victory for their team, usually because on paper, they were superior to the competition. However, this overconfidence or cockiness, often became the downfall for many of these athletes and teams and led to their demise. Upsets happen all the time in sports, mostly because the superior team or athlete just takes it for granted that because they have a better record or are more physically dominant, they will win on their reputation alone. And as we know from many examples, most recently the Belmont, it just doesn’t always happen that way.
Even though Big Brown was in a good position as the horses ran down the backstretch, his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, did not feel he had what it would take to win the race and pulled him up as the horses entered the home stretch. Dutrow was extremely upset and soon after the race even blamed the jockey for his horse’s failure to win. Although they could not find anything physically wrong with Big Brown, he obviously did not have what he needed to win the race.
I was extremely interested in the outcome of the race, as Affirmed was owned by my cousin, Patrice Wolfson. I had the privilege to have watched him race five times and over the years have come to appreciate just how difficult it is to win the Triple Crown. Patrice’s father, Hirsch Jacobs was the winningest trainer in the history of horse racing when he died in 1970. His horses had won 3,596 races upon his death, but had lost several thousand more. As an adolescent, I spent several days one summer going to the track with my uncle and learning a little about the sport. One of the many things he taught me, was to never take anything for granted, especially when it comes to sports. I learned a quote from him and his son that I have used as my philosophy,
“Sports is the greatest theatre in the world, everyone knows their part, but no one knows what will happen”.
No matter what sport you compete in, no matter what position you play, no matter how many hours you train, there still is no guarantee that you will win. If you go into a competition being mentally and physically prepared, having a positive, yet realistic attitude it will give you the best chance for success. When the day comes that you start to get a little overconfident, remember Rick Dutrow and his guarantee that Big Brown would win the Triple Crown. Instead of winning the Belmont, he became the first horse in history to enter the Belmont with an opportunity to win the Triple Crown, and end up last.