Bo-Rail delivers victory again

Give Calvin Borel a Derby horse and it’s usually a win

May 02, 2010|By Tribune Newspapers

LOUISVILLE, KY. — — Calvin Borel has only a nodding acquaintance with the King's English. His dentist can get him in and out in 15 minutes. Don't ask him about Shakespeare, because he'll want to know which race he's in.

But come the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, nobody speaks more clearly, looks better, or is smarter. Put him on your horse and raise the mint juleps in victory.

Trainer Todd Pletcher did that in the 136th Kentucky Derby Saturday, and the same thing that's happened two of the last three years happened again. Borel won, aboard 8-1 Super Saver. No other jockey has won three of four Kentucky Derbies.

"Calvin is a great rider," Pletcher said, "but put him at Churchill Downs and he's five lengths better."

Borel, who began on the bush tracks of Louisiana, has found his riding home beneath the fabled Twin Spires here. He has become the easy rider of Churchill Downs, its perfect pilot.

Borel's amazing run started aboard Street Sense in 2007, and it created a buzz in horse racing, as he made several masterful maneuvers to get the 2-year-old champion to the line first as a 3-year-old. Then last year, when he somehow guided Mine That Bird, a 50-1 impossibility, past the 19 other horses and into the winner's circle, he left the racing world speechless. Jaws dropped and millions were left holding worthless tickets and asking, "Who was that and where did he come from?"

Borel did it again Saturday. More speechless people, another perfect ride that saved ground all the way.

It is well known that his nickname is Calvin Bo-Rail, signifying his tendency to keep his horse on the inside, and wait and wait until a hole opens for a dash to the finish. What isn't well known, or the least bit understood, is how 19 other jockeys, all veterans, can allow the rail to keep opening up for the man who is named for it.

Asked about that, Borel said only, "It takes a good horse."

Trainer Bob Baffert, whose favored Lookin At Lucky got buried in the No. 1 post at the start and ran a heroic race just to finish sixth, probably got closer to the truth.

"Calvin is fearless," he said.

This was a race with so many variables they needed students from Cal Tech to come in and do the handicapping. When the consensus best horse, Lookin At Lucky, drew the inside post—a spot from which even the best horses immediately get squeezed down by the 19 others—handicappers started looking elsewhere. Then the rain was forecast and descended with such force Friday night and early Saturday that they needed Noah to build another Ark. By then, few had a clue.

There were a couple of hints. Pletcher, among the best trainers in the country, was 0-24 in Derby starts. He began the week with five horses entered, including the overwhelming favorite, Eskendereya, whom he had to scratch with an injury. That still left him with four and he seemed due.

Plus, Super Saver had been one of the only horses in the field to have run in similar conditions, winning in September at Belmont.

Then there was the Borel factor.

By race time, just three of the horses were accorded single-digit odds. Lookin At Lucky was at 6.30-1, and Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney's Candy at 9-1. Lookin At Lucky's odds were the longest ever for a Derby favorite. Next closest was Harland's Holiday at 6-1 in 2002, the year War Emblem won.

The gate opened and Lookin At Lucky, ridden by Garrett Gomez, was predictably swarmed and bumped. In about three strides, the favorite's race was over.

"I quit watching him after the first bump," Baffert said. "He was done."

From the No. 4 hole, Borel and Super Saver were off and running, smooth as silk, right on the rail. They were never further back than sixth, never more than a couple of feet off the rail, never in trouble. On the way home, Borel had merely to go around one horse and listen to the crowd of 155,804 root him home.

Those bettors who had figured it out were rewarded with payoffs of $18.80, $8.80 and $6.00.

For second-place Ice Box, the numbers were $11.20 and $8.00 and for third-place Paddy O'Prado $7.40.

Despite an ugly trip and a dislike of the sloppy track surface, Gomez got Lookin At Lucky to make a decent run to sixth. Sidney's Candy, apparently used up with a dash from the 20th hole to second near the rail, struggled home 17th under Joe Talamo.

An hour or so before Derby post time, the day had presented perfect conditions for a mud-wrestling convention. Then, it cleared almost as if on cue. Expensive ladies' hats stopped blowing off toward Mars. Sheets of transparent plastic covering entire six-seat boxes came off. The row of TV cameramen stopped frantically toweling off their lenses.

The sun peeked through, the wind that had been hitting horses right in the face as they turned for home calmed, and the rain stopped.

Just in time, the Old Kentucky Home was ready for its annual moment of civic pride.

And then, one of its favorite residents did what everybody, by now, should know he would.

The rail was there, inexplicably again, and Calvin found it.

bdwyre@tribune.com

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