Saturday, May 9, 2009

Borel owes nothing to anybody, not even an explanation

For a decision that seemed like a relative no-brainer to me, Calvin Borel is catching a little bit of grief -- in the blogosphere anyway -- for choosing to take off Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in order to stick with Rachel Alexandra and likely ride the filly in the Preakness Stakes.

For the life of me, the only two "reasons" I can see motivating Borel's detractors to believe that he should have retained the mount aboard Mine That Bird is some sense of tradition mingled with misguided loyalty ("How can you take off the Derby winner with the Preakness at hand?") or, potentially, something resembling chauvanism.

The latter sentiment would never really make sense, though that doesn't mean there aren't a few observers who believe that picking the male horse is always a shrewder choice. We'll see soon enough whether Mine That Bird and his new rider, as yet unnamed, can finish ahead of Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. (And sure, if the 'Bird wins, Borel looks like a bonehead.)

You could make a better argument for the former if it wasn't apparent that Borel is likely choosing the better horse, and certainly the mount to which he feels a stronger connection and owes greater loyalty.

Calvin Borel has race-ridden Mine That Bird exactly once, in the Kentucky Derby. He did his job to perfection and brought home one of the unlikeliest of victories to the gelding's connections, trainer Bennie Woolley Jr. and owners Double Eagle Ranch and Buena Suerte Equine. Borel owes those connections nothing; they were blessed to have one of Churchill's best on their long-shot. He's paid any debt to them in full by winning that race.

Besides, their horse has run eight races in which he wasn't ridden by Calvin Borel. And won four of them, including three stakes races at Woodbine. In fact, those three stakes races were won with Chantal Sutherland in the irons. And wouldn't bringing her in to replace Borel spice up the Preakness? ... Borel takes off the gelding to ride the filly; MTB's connections ask their boy's long-lost ladyfriend, in whose company he had so many great dates, to step back into his life and show Borel what might have been!

Whether it's Chantal Sutherland, who has proven beyond doubt she can pilot this 'Bird to the winner's circle, or somebody else, the Derby winner is going to get a fine jockey in Borel's absence. After all, Mine That Bird is the Kentucky Derby winner. And much as I'm a fan of the man, Borel's brilliance gleams brightest at Churchill; another jockey might serve MTB even better at Pimlico.

Meanwhile, Rachel Alexandra and Borel have their own good thing going. They're undefeated since pairing up five races ago, including three Grade 2 stakes and the G1 Kentucky Oaks. It matters not to me that her connections have changed (read what I think about the sale); not from Borel's perspective, anyway. She has a legitimate shot of winning the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (please call it "Distaff" again!) and a 3-year-old filly Eclipse, or more. You don't take off that sort of filly. You ride your heart out for her until whomever owns her says you can't ride her anymore.

A second undercurrent of negative sentiment in this debate is the belief of some in the blogosphere (or their readers, anyway) that fans would excoriate Woolley and Co. if they were to take Mine That Bird away from Borel and hand him to someone else for the Preakness. Certainly that would be true if Rachel Alexandra were pointed to the Black Eyed Susan instead of toward facing the boys. But it's far-fetched in my mind to think they'd even consider such a thing after the ride Borel gave their horse at Churchill; a ride in which Mine That Bird's career-best Beyer was elevated from an 81 to a 105. And even if they had -- considering Rachel Alexandra is expected in the Preakness -- what would Borel really have lost?

Wouldn't it be sort of like if a hypothetical gent miraculously found himself dating not one, but two former American Idol winners, and Kelly Clarkson up and tells him, "I've found someone new. Carrie Underwood can have you!" Sure, the blessing of abundance was great while it lasted. But how bummed out could he really be?

I still don't see how Borel can be faulted for the choice he's made. He's ridden Rachel Alexandra for five races to one (albeit brilliant ride) for Mine That Bird. She has "champion" written all over her and Mine That Bird still has something left to prove.

Borel's decision really shouldn't need so much explaining. Lucky for Calvin I'm here to save him the energy.


  1. I think the 'no-brainer' comment summed it up without the need for expansion.

    I can cite another fifty reasons that overwhelm the two or three weak contradictions to those reasons, but in the end, I suspect that anyone questioning Borel isn't interested as racing is likely sixteenth on the list of sports that they opine about.

    That, or they are routinely lost in their own head.

  2. Naw, I read an e-mail post on a horse racing message board -- from a guy for whom this sport is probably No. 1 on his "fanboy" list -- who also was questioning why Borel would take off a Derby winner. His point seemed to be that a Triple Crown is still alive until somebody beats Mine That Bird in the Preakness, and the Derby winning jock shouldn't give up that fleeting chance at greatness and history.

    It's the only argument that makes any sense to me. But as noted, I'd think it made more sense if Mine That Bird looked like he had a good shot to repeat at Pimlico. That Beyer jump from 81-80-105 is screaming "bounce" in my head as a handicapper, and probably in Calvin's too. I doubt the little gelding can back it up with a similar (or sufficient) effort in the Preakness.

    But, if he does, more power to him and his connections. And too bad for Calvin.

  3. I think it is going to be a moot point. Sadly, Mr Zayat and the owners of Mine that Bird plan on entering enough colts in the Preakness to keep RA out. That is a new low in horse raceing for me.

    Anne M.

  4. It might have been great for racing as a sport to let RA run but racing has become a business and keeping RA out makes perfect business sense. The quarter horse people have been doing it for years. Why let someone in if they can be beat you.

  5. It might make perfect business sense for some individuals, but it's terrible for the game. Especially among casual observers. And last time I checked, this game needed a serious boost in positive PR.

  6. And let us not forget the wonderful publicity that was generated by a pair of posterchildren for the sport's decline using 'business sense' to buy a Preakness starter.

    Hal Wiggins got her this far and they had no intention of running her in this spot.

    These guys had her entered in the race before they so much as watched her jog under their tack, eat a bite of their food, and crap on their bedding.

    I hate to see people running a filly out of 'business sense' being victimized by those utilizing 'business sense'. Poor Mr. Jackson, indeed.

  7. I guess both tactics could be considered "business" decisions. I have more respect for the folks who are competing in the name of business than those who are ducking competition for a similar reason.


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