Kent Desormeaux celebrates winning the Belmont Stakes aboard Summer Bird
What a difference a race makes.
Leading up to Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the racing world spent five weeks genuflecting before the great Calvin Borel. Racing observers loved the way he captured the Kentucky Derby with his rail ride on 50-to-1 shot Mine That Bird, and they also admired his savvy decision to jump off the Derby champion and onto Preakness-winning filly Rachel Alexandra.
Borel’s fame skyrocketed, as trainers and analysts heaped credit on him for his outstanding Triple Crown rides. Writers called for the jockey to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the rider entertained America with stints on the “Tonight Show” and the “Late Show with Dave Letterman.”
But fame is fleeting.
In Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, Borel made a huge move from the backstretch to the top of the lane aboard Mine That Bird. He was poised to become the first jockey ever to win all three Triple Crown races riding two different horses.
But at the quarter pole it seemed that the grueling three-race Derby-Preakness-Belmont schedule caught up with Mine That Bird. Or maybe, running the 1-1/2 mile-Belmont distance was just not this gelding’s thing.
In any event, Mine That Bird was gassed.
As Borel pleaded with the Bird to pass tiring pace setter Durkirk, anybody watching the stretch run could see that the other Bird — Summer Bird — was the only horse left with any legs. Desormeaux had Summer Bird rolling. He blew by both Dunkirk and Mine That Bird with 100 yards to go and crossed the wire 2 -3/4 lengths in front.
Right afterward, television analysts, and even trainer Chip Woolley, pointed fingers at Calvin Borel. They said he moved Mine That Bird too early and that’s why the 6-to-5 favorite lost the race.
In the New York Post, writer Ed Fountaine summed it up this way: “Did Calvin’s sudden celebrity, his guest spots on Jay Leno and David Letterman, go to his head? Renowned for his work ethic, Borel spent Belmont week sightseeing in Manhattan, not taking a single mount to get acquainted with Belmont Park, a track he had just ridden over seven times before.
“Then, after guaranteeing victory all week, he rode 6-5 favorite Mine That Bird like a bug boy. Abandoning the golden rail, he launched a premature move wide around the far turn and ran out of gas in the final furlong.”
Rode like a bug boy? Ouch. And just last week Borel was a sure Hall of Famer.
Yep, it looks like America’s short love affair with Borel is over. Put a fork in it. It’s done.
When gamblers lose big money at short odds — especially when the rider guarantees victory — they will turn on that jockey. Horseplayers can be unforgiving, and some are downright nasty. Just ask any jockey about the crude language they hear when unsaddling losing favorites at any race track in America, and they’ll tell you.
When I looked at the Belmont, Mine That Bird didn’t look much better than some of the other horses and, at 2-to-1 on the morning line, he offered absolutely no value. The 1-1/2 mile Belmont is a tricky distance because the pace is so slow and in the recent past this race has ended with many unforeseen outcomes.
I spread my bets out over four horses at good prices that appeared to have the sustained running style that would work at 1-1/2 miles. And my runners had some of the best jockey talent in the country aboard: Chocolate Candy, 9/1, Garrett Gomez; Dunkirk, 9/2, John Velazquez; Mr. Hot Stuff, 22/1, Edgar Prado; and Flying Private, 17/1, Julien Leparoux.
At 11/1, Summer Bird looked OK too. When looking at his past performances, I added a few points to the 99 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in the Kentucky Derby to account for his wide trip, but my mistake was not giving Summer Bird enough weight for his potential to improve in just his fifth start.
I think spreading out my wagers against Mine That Bird was the right thing to do. But the one problem with betting four horses in a race, is that when they all lose you need to think up nasty things to shout at four jockeys in the unsaddling area instead of only one.
And that’s the real challenge.
© Copyright Maiden King, 2009. Written exclusively for maidenking.wordpress.com. Not to be duplicated or reprinted.