Borel is becoming a Derby legend

Borel is becoming a Derby legend

Published May. 2, 2010 3:55 p.m. ET

What more can you say about Calvin Borel?

He's the jockey who set the world alight with his daring ride to win the Kentucky Derby three years ago on Street Sense. He then uncorked perhaps the greatest ride in the 135-year history of America's premier classic to win it last year on the incomprehensible longshot Mine That Bird, and he did it all over again yesterday on Super Saver, the 7-1 second choice, before a shouting, roaring crowd of 155,000 at Churchill Downs.

What's going on here? Who is this Calvin Borel? Three Derby winners in four years, a feat that not even the immortals of the business — Eddie Arcaro, Bill Shoemaker, Bill Hartack — could accomplish. Not even the great Pat Day, who owned Churchill Downs for more years than we care to remember, ever came close to doing what Borel has done.

It defies explanation, but I'll take a shot — Borel is a man of destiny.
At 43, when most jockeys are contemplating retirement from their dangerous profession, Borel has soared to uncharted heights, a face with that incomparable smile and exuberance, that is becoming more familiar than the president's.

He gave Super Saver the rail-skimming ride that is his trademark, leaving every other jockey in the race to gape with wonder and astonishment. How the hell does he get away with it? Why do other jockeys give him the garden path to victory?

The answer: There isn't a jockey in the land who is more fearless, and more pertinently, more skilful at riding the rail. It's not a matter of simply steering the horse to the inside and letting him do the work. Borel has turned rail-race riding into a work of art, the best any of us have ever seen.

Super Saver, in my opinion, was the underlay of the Derby. He should never have been so short as 8-1, but put Borel on a horse in the Derby and it seems the whole country dives in and shovels a fortune on him. The Borel factor cut his odds in half. What other jockey in the past 25 years has exhibited such power at the parimutuels?

Borel earns every penny. He punched Super Saver out of his nifty gate 4, eased him back behind the break-neck speed horses out front, and just rode Super once around the big oval. He made it look so easy. Then, always a superb judge of pace, Borel moved him around one horse, shot him to the lead, opened daylight and it was roses, roses all the way. Ice Box came flying, but he was not going to get past Borel.

"I had him where I wanted him,” Borel said. "I got him off the pace and he relaxed good. I learned a lot about him when I rode him last out in the Arkansas Derby [where he was beaten a neck]. When I worked him the other day, I felt he was peaking, just at the right time. I think he might get better.”

Then Borel made a prophesy.

"If he stays sound, I think he could go all the way,” he said. In other words, Borel thinks he might be riding a Triple Crown winner!

Borel's triumph was so joyful and infectious it almost overshadowed the other remarkable achievement of this Derby — trainer Todd Pletcher's first Derby winner after saddling 24 losers.

Pletcher, a stoic person, said this victory was very special.

"It was very important for me to win, but the most important thing was to win it while my parents are still here,” he said. "I have dreamed my whole life about winning the Derby.

"I spoke to my parents after the race and my mother said it was the greatest day in her life.”

Pletcher is the most successful trainer working the shedrows today. He has won just about everything, won more money than Goldman Sachs could count, has won more medals and titles than you can tally. Yet the most incredible thing about him is that he was perhaps best known in the world as the trainer who has never won a Derby.

Today, the hex has gone. Todd Pletcher finally got his Derby.

"People say we had one with our name written on it, but I never take anything for granted,” he said. "It feels awfully good.”

Pletcher paid tribute to Borel.

"No one rides Churchill Downs like he does,” he said. "He's five lengths better than any other jockey on this track.”

The win was some compensation for Pletcher's anguish over losing Eskendereya, the Derby's hot favorite, through injury a week ago. Well, that's life. Sometimes it takes with one hand then gives with the other.

No description of this Derby would be complete without noting the horrendous misfortune that befell the 6-1 favorite, Lookin At Lucky, from his rail post position. He hardly had made his way out of the gate before he was slammed hard into the rail, then, just as he was about to recover, he was virtually mugged, almost going down. He was eliminated before a furlong had been run.

Yet he came home gallantly to get sixth, just seven lengths behind Super Saver. There is a strong case to be made that Lookin At Lucky was the best horse in the Derby. The post position killed him, as many of us feared.

The same goes for Sidney's Candy, the third choice at 9-1. He came flying out of gate 20 to try to get the lead, but Bob Baffert's speed demon, Conveyance, playing the role of the rabbit, outsprinted him — and effectively demolished him. Both of them collapsed with fatigue at the top of the stretch, finishing 15th and 17th respectively.

If Borel keeps it up, those hardboots in Kentucky might have to think about instituting a Calvin Borel Day.