Jerry Hissam, Calvin Borel's close friend and longtime agent, was a little exasperated after the Preakness.
Reporters were peppering him with questions about Borel, who had just won the second jewel of the 2009 Triple Crown, and he was trying to come up with a dignified way of saying what was on the tip of everyone's tongue: Isn't it about time the racing community figured out that Borel - even at age 42 - is one of the best jockeys in the sport?
In the end, Hissam, a jovial 65-year-old but also a no-nonsense West Virginian, decided to simply point to the facts.
"Go look at the standings right now at Churchill Downs," Hissam said in reference to Borel's home track, playfully thrusting a thick finger in the direction of a reporter for added emphasis. "Even though we're third in the standings, the basic payoff for horses that Calvin rides is $25.80. What more can I tell you than that? ... To me, it proves one thing. When you put him on a horse, you've got a chance."
It's almost hard to believe, as the 141st Belmont Stakes takes place this Saturday, that Borel has a legitimate shot to win all three Triple Crown races. Less than two months ago, he wasn't sure he would have a Kentucky Derby mount.
He was hoping to ride Beethoven, a promising 3-year-old, but the horse was injured in March. And then the horse he did end up with, Mine That Bird, looked like the longest of long shots at 50-1, and that was probably a generous line.
"When I look at that horse on paper before the Derby, I don't know how in the world he wasn't 100-1," Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens said.
There wasn't even any official video of Mine That Bird available for Borel to view before he agreed to ride him. All he had to go by was what his fiancee, Lisa Funk, could find on YouTube. It's a pretty good story of perseverance and patience for a man nicknamed "Boo Boo," a moniker the youngest of five boys earned because of the 12-year gap between him and his closest sibling. He has spent his whole life dreaming of this and never stopped doing the little things, like cleaning out barns or showing up at 5 a.m. to work lightly regarded horses, even after winning a race like the Derby.
But as Hissam likes to point out, Borel has always been this good. If you're just realizing it, well, you probably cost yourself a lot of money over the years.
"People are paying attention now because he's winning the classics," Hissam said. "But the first year I ever had Calvin, we went to Louisiana and won the Louisiana Super Derby with a horse that paid $58. Two years later, we went to the Arkansas Derby and won with a horse that paid $218. We won the Stephen Foster with a horse that paid almost $200. ... That just shows that no matter what the horse is, he's going to try for you."
Even though he'll be under pressure to deliver, Borel's Belmont trip is already shaping up to be less stressful than the buildup to the Preakness. When Rachel Alexandra's previous owner, Dolphus Morrison, decided to sell the filly after Borel rode her to a remarkable 20 1/4 -length victory in the Kentucky Oaks, the jockey was so nervous about losing the mount, he was near tears on the day Churchill Downs handed him his check for winning the Derby ($141,720).
"He would have given that check back to the racetrack if it meant he could still ride Rachel," said Funk, who has been with Borel since 2001, when the pair met at Churchill Downs. "Finishing first to him in a race means way more to him than whatever he's getting paid."
Borel won't have an easy trip this Saturday at the track known as "Big Sandy." Even though it's the longest race of the Triple Crown at 1 1/2 miles, a length that would seem to favor Mine That Bird's charge-from-behind-late running style, Belmont winners have traditionally needed to be within a few lengths of the lead coming into the final turn.
"I think you have to be forwardly paced," said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Charitable Man. "Tactical speed is important. As for Mine That Bird, I agree with his trainer that he's going to continue to run his style. We have tactical speed, and we don't have to change that. We have lot of pluses on our side. I wouldn't trade places with anyone."
Charitable Man could be Mine That Bird's biggest threat, especially when you consider that he didn't run in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness and he doesn't have to ship to get to Belmont because it's his home track. McLaughlin, who won the Belmont in 2006 with Jazil, still doesn't seem sold on Mine That Bird. He told reporters this week that Mine That Bird's Derby victory taught him that he should never pass on running a horse in the Derby the way he did this year.