NEW YORK - Kent Desormeaux has heard enough about his deflating performance aboard Big Brown in last year’s Belmont Stakes, when the so-called superhorse was considered a sure thing to break the three-decade drought in the Triple Crown.
He’s had it with the talk about Real Quiet and his other near-miss for racing’s Holy Grail.
Now the Hall of Fame jockey hopes people will mention an unknown 3-year-old colt called Summer Bird, owned by husband and wife doctors from India and given little chance of upsetting Mine That Bird in the 1½-mile “Test of the Champion.”
“I hope from now on we’ll talk about winning one,” Desormeaux said.
The three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey acknowledged Saturday that his career would not have been complete without winning the Belmont Stakes. He’d failed five previous times, two of them under the most glaring of spotlights.
In 1998 aboard Real Quiet, Desormeaux was the heavy favorite to finally break the Triple Crown drought. He won the Preakness by a wide margin, then was leading the Belmont until the final stride, when Victory Gallop edged him by a nose.
Many criticized Desormeaux for the ride, saying he went out too fast and Real Quiet had nothing left at the end.
“Especially after the first Belmont, I felt given the opportunity I’d do it exactly the same way again. Cornering for home aboard Real Quiet, I thought I did not lose,” Desormeaux recalled. “The only stride Victory Gallop was ahead of me was the stride at the wire.
“It just wasn’t meant to be. With that said, I tried to maintain my confidence.”
Desormeaux got another chance on Big Brown, but the horse struggled with a small crack in his hoof leading up to the race. Unable to keep up with the leaders and realizing early the horse had nothing to give, Desormeaux pulled him up around the third turn and Big Brown finished last.
“Big Brown was dealing with a lot of adversity, everybody knows about the foot,” Desormeaux said. “There were several moments where we didn’t even know if he was going to run.”
Indeed, the modest, soft-spoken jockey knows plenty about adversity.
His son, Jacob, was born with Usher Syndrome, which causes deafness and a gradual loss of vision. Then a couple of years ago, Desormeaux’s career had reached such a dry spell that he moved to New York in hopes of rediscovering his winning touch.
He seems to have done so, getting a dream ride Saturday near his adopted home.
Desormeaux kept Summer Bird close to lead around the sweeping turns at Belmont Park and was ready to charge when favorite Mine That Bird made his move.
As the Kentucky Derby winner pulled ahead of Dunkirk, Summer Bird found an extra gear and pulled away down the long stretch in front of the grandstand, a crowd of 52,861 rising to its feet and cheering the son of 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone to a 2¾-length victory.
“The only way I was going to get beat is if there was somebody behind me coming,” Desormeaux said. “He had dead aim on the leaders.”
The win was all in the family, in some ways. The first-year trainer of Summer Bird is 35-year-old Tim Ice, who spent five years as an assistant to Desormeaux’s brother Keith.
Ice didn’t win his first major race until Affirmed Truth won the Rainbow Stakes on March 28 at Oaklawn Park, and called the stunning victory with Summer Bird “unexplainable.”
The same word Desormeaux has used all too often to describe the Belmont.
Kentucky Derby champion Animal Kingdom was unable to go out a winner, fading quickly in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday in his last race before retirement.
Ramon Dominguez, a three-time Eclipse Award winner as the leading jockey in North America, retired on Thursday due to a head injury suffered in a fall earlier this year.
Triple Crown winners
The horses that have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in the same year.
Derby Day finery
Fashion statements fill Churchill Downs as race fans display their hats.