2 friends supply a suitable finish

Preakness jockeys Borel and Albarado shared similar paths, from Cajun country to Pimlico homestretch

Preakness Stakes

May 20, 2007|By RICK MAESE

You don't script days like this one. There are parts you fear, other parts you dream about. But you can't plan it this way.

In fact, the only thing you could say was tailor-made about the 132nd running of the Preakness was the suit that jockey Calvin Borel showed up wearing yesterday morning. It was navy blue, but it wasn't tailored for him. Inside was the name of fellow Louisiana native Robby Albarado. Their friendship stretches from the bush tracks of Cajun country all the way to the photo finish that decided yesterday's exciting race.

Albarado had lent his friend the suit before Borel's Kentucky Derby win two weeks earlier atop Street Sense. Borel wanted to wear it again yesterday, a crisp, sharp-looking, good-luck charm he'd hoped would bring him the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Funny how you can cling to luck in the barns, but when you're on the mount, it's the furthest thing from your mind. Surely, Albarado wasn't thinking about luck two hours before the Preakness. In the day's 10th race, the Dixie Stakes, a horse ahead of Albarado's broke down approaching the far turn. With little time to react, Albarado spotted thrown jockey Eddie Castro on the ground to his left, so he leaped the fallen horse on his right. In the process, he fell from his horse and slid about a dozen feet on the grass track before coming to a halt.

The fallen horse had to be euthanized, but both jockeys were OK.

"One good thing about taking spills all the time," Albarado said, "is you learn how to fall."

You also learn how to get up.

Albarado was back on the mount for the Preakness, unshaken and justifiably confident in his horse, an inexperienced chestnut with just four career starts. Even before Curlin's third-place finish at the Kentucky Derby, no one questioned the horse's athleticism. But neither his trainer, Steve Asmussen, nor his jockey had ever won a Triple Crown race.

That didn't deter Albarado. Not for a second. Two weeks earlier, he'd watched one of his best friends - another jockey with plenty of big wins, but none in the Triple Crown series - zip past the entire field to win the Kentucky Derby.

Around Churchill Downs, Borel and Albarado's friendship is no secret, and the similarities in their careers is striking. Though Borel is seven years older, both Louisiana natives turned pro at 16, eager to take any mount they could get. By the time the pair had started working out of Kentucky, their work ethic and humility made both of them favorites in just about any barn they entered.

As at the Kentucky Derby, Borel knew one of his best friends was one of his biggest threats in the Preakness field. When the gates opened, it didn't seem to matter, as Curlin stumbled out and the other eight horses pressed ahead. Worry passed through the minds of his owners - a group that paid a reported $3.5 million for Curlin 3 1/2 months ago - as well as the horse's trainer.

Asked later whether he was a little concerned, Asmussen said: "Probably a little bit more than a little."

Not Albarado, though. If you fall, you get up; if you stumble, you recover. It's the same whether you're in Cajun country, near Kentucky bluegrass or under gray Baltimore skies. So no one was surprised when Curlin was back into contention by the quarter pole.

Many in the crowd waved betting slips, gambling that a Triple Crown contender would be sent along to the Belmont Stakes, but as the horses made their way down the final stretch, there were two in front of the field. Borel looked to his side and saw a familiar face, the man who'd lent him that good-luck suit.

Albarado didn't need luck; he'd always felt he had the best horse. And he didn't need to see the photo to know that Curlin had edged out Street Sense by a head bob. Years riding horses in lesser races told both jockeys who'd won this one.

As the fans studied the video screen at Pimlico Race Course, Borel was alongside Albarado once more. "You got me!" Borel said.

The feeling yesterday was new, and yet the feeling was familiar. For both jockeys.

"When [Borel] won the Derby," Albarado said, "it felt like I was a part of that."

"I'm glad [Albarado] beat me," Borel said, "if anybody had to beat me."

There will be no Triple Crown winner this year, but the Belmont Stakes still has some tailor-made intrigue. It should be a grudge match between two competitors who know how to celebrate each other's successes and between two jockeys from Southwest Louisiana who traveled near-identical paths. But most importantly, it would be a race between two friends who know how to fall and know how to get up.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Jockey's position

How first-time Preakness winner Robby Albarado has fared in the second jewel.

Year Horse Pos. 2007 Curlin 1st 2005 Going Wild 14th 2003 Midway Road 2nd 2002 Straight Gin 9th 2000 Captain Steve 4th 1999 Vicar 10th 1998 Classic Cat 3rd

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