Jockey Kent Desormeaux
(June 2008)

Big Brown trainer Rick Dutrow dropped the proverbial “other shoe” on jockey Kent Desormeaux when he accused him of running a bad race on Triple Crown favorite Big Brown in the Belmont Stakes. Desormeaux had to know he would be blamed when he eased up on his mount in the race, guaranteeing the only last place finish by a winner of the previous two legs of racing’s Triple Crown.

The sports media and betters had made it clear that Big Brown couldn’t lose, thus ending a draught of Triple Crown winners that stretched back all the way into the 70s. But when Desormeaux signaled his horse that it was time to make his move in the Belmont, Big Brown failed to respond. “I had no horse,” the jockey said afterwards. Most jockeys would have gone to the whip, refusing to give up a million dollar payday and immortality, and risking the health and perhaps life of the horse, whose reluctance to run could have been a symptom of an impending breakdown. This reaction would be especially tempting because of the inevitable blame and recriminations sure to rain down on a jockey’s head following the shock and disappointment of a favorite’s failure.

But to his undying credit and honor, Kent Desormeaux thought of his horse first. Even though careful examinations of Big Brown after the race seemed to show that he was sound, Desormeaux did the responsible and caring thing…the hard thing, the courageous thing too. He protected a trusting and vulnerable animal at the risk of his own reputation.

For some, his legacy in the sport of horse racing will always be controversy: did he give the Triple Crown away? For those who care about ethical values, however—an admittedly miniscule contingent in the so-called “sport of kings”—Kent Desormeaux is an Ethics Hero.

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