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The Big Brown effect

Sports

Issue: "Not over till it's over," Nov. 1, 2008

One of the most hyped racehorses in modern memory, Big Brown failed to deliver in the two greatest opportunities of his short career. This past June, the thoroughbred finished dead last at Belmont Park when many analysts considered victory and a Triple Crown sweep inevitable. And this fall, the powerful 3-year-old suffered an injury to his right front foot, ending hopes for a showdown with 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin at the Breeders' Cup Classic-and ending Big Brown's career.

Much of the sporting world will remember only that legacy of disappointment, but Big Brown's positive impact on horse racing could well reshape the sport for years to come. The controversial but previously common practice of using steroids in training came to the fore when trainer Rick Dutrow elected to discontinue Big Brown's regimen of the anabolic steroid Winstrol in the days leading up to the Belmont Stakes.

That news, combined with the subsequent shock of Big Brown's last-place finish, sparked a discussion of steroid use that led to new practices and regulations. Big Brown co-owner Michael Iavarone announced that every one of the more than 50 horses in his International Equine Acquisitions Holdings stable would no longer receive steroids. The California Horse Racing Board banned steroids statewide in July. And Breeders' Cup officials followed suit shortly after, instituting a policy that the trainer of any horse testing positive for steroids would face a one-year suspension. Three-time offenders face a lifetime ban.

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Big Brown will never race in that new steroid-free environment, but his ­offspring likely will. This year's winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes is now slated to begin a much-anticipated breeding career at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky.

Playoffs and layoffs

Turns out, professional sports leagues are not immune from global economic turmoil. NBA commissioner David Stern has announced layoffs of 9 percent of the league's domestic work force, about 80 employees. The move is part of a broader belt-tightening plan that NBA executives conceived several months ago in anticipation of an economic downturn.

In the past, long-term television contracts have insulated professional sports leagues from market dips. But a new economic model heavily reliant on ticket and concessions revenues leaves many teams vulnerable when consumers' entertainment dollars run thin. Major League Baseball reported a drop in attendance for the season, prompting commissioner Bud Selig to warn against getting "too cocky" in setting ticket prices for next year. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the league is making contingency plans in preparation for tough times.

For teams in need of new stadiums, tough times have arrived. The prospect of procuring public financing faces increasingly hostile resistance from cash-strapped municipalities-and the taxpayers who live there.

Iron effort

Australian Craig Alexander, last year's runner-up in the Ironman World Championship, won this year's event in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on Oct. 11. His winning time was 8:17:45, over a course that included a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. Britain's Chrissie Wellington defended her women's title in 9:06:23.

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