Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bird flies coop, leaving Borel behind

Mark Allen, primary owner of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, has told the Daily Racing Form that he and the horse's trainer, Bennie Woolley Jr., have taken the mount away from jockey Calvin Borel.

The Churchill Downs-based rider effectively won the horse and his connections the Derby by conserving the horse's energy and making the jockey's patented move up the inside fence in the late-going, a style of riding that has earned Borel the nickname "Bo-Rail." But after taking off the horse to ride filly Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness -- winning that race, relegating Mine That Bird to second, and ending the Birdstone gelding's Triple Crown hopes -- Borel was back on the horse for the Belmont Stakes, and was criticized by a number of observers, including Woolley, for a ride in which the jockey likely moved the horse too soon.

Mine That Bird was beaten in the Belmont by another Birdstone son, Summer Bird.

Allen told DRF that he and Woolley were not yet ready to name a new rider, but Borel wouldn't be the person aboard Mine That Bird when the gelding makes his expected return to the races in the Aug. 1, $750,000 West Virginia Derby-G2 at Mountaineer Park.

To a degree, I suppose, a little turnabout is fair play. Borel had to make a choice between MTB and the filly for the Preakness, and beyond a doubt made the right one at the time. He's paid for it since by regaining -- and now losing -- Mine That Bird, and by learning that Rachel's ownership group, primarily Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stable, claim they will not run her on racing's biggest weekend, the Breeders' Cup this fall at Santa Anita. Jackson does not want the filly running on a synthetic track, even though she's won a race over such a surface as a 2-year-old.

Now, Allen says, Borel was hedging on whether he would ride Mine That Bird in West Virginia, or take the mount on Warrior's Reward in the Jim Dandy S.-G2 at Saratoga. If Borel was uncertain which horse to take in that case, it was his mistake. Warrior's Reward might be a very good colt, but as of now he's a Grade 3-placed runner with five lifetime starts who is pointed toward a $500,000 race.

While Borel is tabbed to ride Warrior's Reward (who beat Barbaro's brother Nicanor in a maiden race) in the Dwyer Stakes on the Fourth of July, I find it hard to believe Borel would consider keeping that mount over a Derby winner who placed in all three Triple Crown races and is pointed toward a $750,000 race, from which the jockey's winnings would be 50 percent more than if his horse won the Jim Dandy.

"I'm not going to bad-mouth Calvin or Jerry (Hissam, Borel's agent) because they've done me a lot of good. Heck, they won the Derby for me," said Allen. "But I'm not going to let them hang us out the way they did before the Preakness, waiting until the last minute to tell us we needed another rider."

Speaking in terms with which Allen is certainly familiar, I have to call bullshit on his claims of Borel "hanging them out ... until the last minute" with his choice of Rachel Alexandra for the Preakness. Once Jess Jackson owned her and pointed her toward that race, Borel made his definitive choice almost immediately. I blogged that he'd made the right choice on June 8, and that's a week and a day before the big race at Pimlico; hardly short notice.

But, Allen and Woolley have the right to put any jock they want on their horse, and unless the West Virginia Derby draws up way tougher than I'm expecting, Mine That Bird will be the heavy -- if not short-priced -- favorite to win.

So whoever that guy (or gal) to get the mount happens to be, should count himself lucky.


  1. I don't think that Allen's words were quite the "bullshit" you claimed. While Borel said from the get-go that he'd ride Rachel in the Preakness, Woolley was quoted as saying he'd believed in his gut that she ultimately wouldn't run. I think their own belief in that scenario made them feel, mistakenly, that Borel was leaving them dangle a bit.

    I also understand their reasoning for wanting a jock who will commit to ride the last three races of MTB's 3-yr-old campaign. Consistency is important - and it would be one less thing to worry about if you have a rider locked in.

    Additionally, I think you'd agree that MTB connections have the right to feel a bit like they've been disrespected regarding their gelding. I mean, honestly, if Borel was thinking of committing to Warrior's Reward due to his close relationship with Ian Wilke and thereby getting of a Kentucky Derby winner who hasn't run a bad race since then.....I'd feel a bit disrespected, too! It's like they are the old, comfortable girlfriend who Borel can jump back to if the "cool" girls (or boys) aren't interested.

    Even you'd agree - Mine That Bird doesn't deserve to be someone's "fallback date." Whoever rides him will be very lucky indeed.

  2. I don't actually disagree with you. I do think that when Calvin announced up front he'd ride Rachel regardless, he did all he could do (from a professionalism sense) for Allen and Woolley prior to the Preakness. ... "Bullshit" might be a harsh word, but they knew if the filly ran, they needed a jockey, and they knew it pretty much as soon as Jess Jackson bought her.

    I think Warrior's Reward might be a convenient "out" for both of them, so that they don't have to make this "Rachel vs. Bird" again down the line.

  3. Yes, Borel gave Mine That Bird a brilliant ride in the Derby.

    And you're right that the vacillating before the Preakness was not Borel's fault - Jess Jackson held off committing Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird's connections decided to wait on Jackson. At the same time, Borel's decision to dump the Derby winner for any other horse was unusual, to say the least.

    As it turned out, the filly didn't win easily. It appeared that Mine That Bird almost caught her despite coming so wide around the turn and I wonder whether he might have beaten her if he'd been ridden by a jockey who had won on him before.

    Then, Borel's Belmont behavior was less than stellar. No matter what Borel's agent says, if Borel was able to get 3 mounts on the Mother Goose undercard, he could have raced at Belmont during the week before the Belmont Stakes. Instead, he spent the week showboating and gave Mine That Bird a lousy trip on the unfamiliar track.

    You seem to be suggesting that Borel may be the aggrieved party in this current Warrior's Reward vs. Mine That Bird situation. I completely disagree. Mine That Bird deserves a jockey who believes in him enough to make the commitment his connections are asking for. For heaven's sake, Mine That Bird won the Derby, nearly won the Preakness and came in 3rd in the Belmont. He's a very good horse. How many other horses of his caliber are left scrambling to find a jockey before every race?

  4. I'm not saying anyone's an aggrieved party.


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