Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Borel, at least for now, is best for the Bird

Now maybe this case is settled. For two more races, anyway.

Borel's first ride with the 3-year-old reigning Canadian juvenile champion was of course the duo's stunning, rail-skimming, upset win in a sloppy Kentucky Derby on May 2. Obviously it's the biggest win of the gelding's life.

When Borel took off the horse to ride super-filly Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, Mine That Bird didn't get a good trip, nor the world's greatest ride, from Mike Smith. The Bird finished a gaining and frustrating second to Borel and the history-making filly.

Smith took off the horse to ride on the west coast on Belmont Stakes day, and Borel was back in the irons at Belmont. Inexperienced over "Big Sandy," Borel has been criticized for moving with Mine That Bird too soon. The horse flattened out in deep stretch and finished a tired third.

And, off goes Calvin, this time by choice of the horse's connections, trainer Bennie Woolley Jr. and owners Mark Allen's Double Eagle Ranch and Buena Suerte Equine.

Their choice of replacement? Mike Smith, who in the West Virginia Derby gave the horse a ride very similar to Borel's mistake in the Belmont; moving too soon. Even Smith thought so, calling it "total rider error."

Smith was booked to ride Mine That Bird in the Travers, but the horse was scratched after undergoing minor surgery for an entrapped epiglottis. So now, contractually, the Kentucky Derby winner was again without a rider. And his connections reach back in the hat, stir the available jockeys around a bit, and pull out ... the same guy who won with him in the Derby and lost aboard him in the Belmont.

Calvin Borel worked the gelding Monday at Saratoga. He'll ride Mine That Bird in the Goodwood S.-G1 on Oct. 10 at Santa Anita, and -- unless some other big change occurs -- in the Breeders' Cup Classic at the same track on Nov. 7.

It's the best choice for a horse that must be starting to feel like a displaced foster child.

What we do know is the following:

1. Mine That Bird ran the race of his life in the Kentucky Derby.

2. He's pretty much run his guts out every time since, with trip and tactics -- not lack of talent -- being primarily what's gotten him beat.

3. Borel was responsible for one of those rides, but it was at a mile and a half and over a track with which Borel (through no fault of his own) was completely inexperienced; a race, the Belmont Stakes, that has reputation for undoing very good horses and riders.

I really believe that, paired-up again and given 9 or 10 furlongs, Calvin Borel will push the button at the right time and offer Mine That Bird his best shot to win in the Goodwood and the Breeders' Cup Classic.

That doesn't mean he will win. But if he loses these two, I'd like to think it won't be due to the ride he was given.

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