Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fear the Queen? Calvin Borel, Mine That Bird and the ongoing jockey-rider chess match

What if it's really about Rachel?

As reported, jockey Calvin Borel on Wednesday was taken off Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird by owner Mark Allen and trainer Bennie Woolley Jr.

Allen said it was because Borel was hedging on whether to ride Mine That Bird in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby-G2 on Aug. 1, or to ride the Grade 3-placed Medaglia D'Oro colt Warrior's Reward in the $500,000 Jim Dandy S.-G2 at Saratoga instead.

Allen said he didn't want Borel leaving him hanging, waiting on the jockey's decision "until the last minute" again as in the days leading up to the Preakness Stakes.

But Borel didn't leave Allen, Woolley and Mine That Bird "hanging" prior to the Pimlico classic; they had over a week to find a rider and there's only two weeks between Derby and Preakness anyway. And, jockey/trainer allegiances aside -- as Borel has a long relationship with Warrior's Reward conditioner Ian Wilkes, who was an assistant to Carl Nafzger, whom Borel calls "Mr. Carl" -- it would make sense to me for Borel to stick with the heavy favorite in a $750,000 race over a horse that, even with luck, will be merely a middling contender in a $500,000 affair.

Then Anne Mayea, a contributor to a Yahoo horse racing discussion group of which I'm a member, offered some insights that hit home.

What if it isn't about Warrior's Reward or even Mine That Bird at all?

What if it's all about Rachel Alexandra?

Precedent, and Borel's own words, are more than clear. Forced to make a choice between the two horses, Calvin will forever take Rachel Alexandra over Mine That Bird.

That isn't necessarily a conflict leading up to the first weekend of August. Though there's speculation that Rachel Alexandra might be entered against colts again in the Haskell Invitational-G1 at Monmouth Park, that race is on Sunday, Aug. 2. Borel could ride Mine That Bird in the West Virginia Derby on Aug. 1 at Mountaineer and Rachel in the Haskell the following day, no problem.

Only if Rachel were entered in the Jim Dandy instead (and she is training at Saratoga) would race-dates for the two conflict. And it could happen.

Even if not, then the Travers Stakes-G1 at Saratoga looms large.

Woolley has already stated that Mine That Bird's next race after the West Virginia Derby will be the Travers, at 10 furlongs over the Saratoga course on Aug. 29. And Rachel will be there, in training if nothing else.

Rachel will likely race twice between now and Labor Day: Her connections' available choices are many, but most attractive could be: the $1 million Delaware H.-G2 against older fillies and mares on July 19; the Coaching Club American Oaks-G1 against 3-year-old fillies at Belmont on July 25; the Jim Dandy on Aug. 1 or the Haskell on Aug. 2, both against 3-year-old males; the Alabama Stakes-G1 against her own age and gender at Saratoga on Aug. 22; the Travers against 3-year-old males on Aug. 29; and the Personal Ensign S.-G1 going 10 furlongs against older females at Saratoga on Aug. 30.

Rachel's primary owner, Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stables, has indicated an interest not only in racing his filly against older females, but in racing her vs. colts again. If Rachel doesn't undertake that inter-gender challenge in the Jim Dandy or Haskell, the remaining spot then becomes the Travers -- which would force Borel off Mine That Bird by his own choice anyway.

Of course, nobody knows whose horse will be fit for any given race. But if things in all camps (including that of Warrior's Reward, whom Borel is riding in the Dwyer S.-G2 on Independence Day) work out as planned, Borel might have three horses he was riding as of Wednesday morning, all pointed at the Travers on Aug. 29. And Rachel trumps all.

So while Mark Allen might be using a potential conflict with the Warrior's Reward mount as his reason for taking Calvin Borel off Mine That Bird, he very well might be playing a bigger chess match -- and thinking one or two races and moves ahead as a result.

Allen might really be saying that he'd rather trade-out Borel for another pawn in the black Double Eagle Ranch silks right now, than have to worry whether the present 3-year-old queen of racing is going to sweep his cajun knight out of the saddle again later in the game.

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