From a sure Hall of Famer to rode “like a bug boy.” America turns its back on Borel after he loses Belmont

Kent Desormeaux celebrates winning the Belmont Stakes aboard Summer Bird

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.

Advertisements

Saturday, Belmont Stakes — 3:27 pm post time

Maiden King conquers the Belmont Stakes

Maiden King conquers the Belmont Stakes

Belmont Stakes, 1-1/2 miles, 3-year-olds

Possible overlays                            Morning line

#1 Chocolate Candy                             10/1
#2 Dunkirk                                          4/1
#3 Mr. Hot Stuff                                  15/1
#8 Flying Private                                  12/1

 The Belmont Stakes is an intriguing race because 3-year-olds are tackling a mile-and-a-half distance for the first time and almost certainly will never race this far again.

Over the years, longshots have popped that were real head-scratchers when looking at their past performances, and I think it’s because of the slow early pace.  The pace is much quicker at shorter distances than the Belmont Stakes, which leads some talented horses to tire badly in the stretch. But if the early pace is slowed to a crawl — like is often the case in the Belmont —  then some horses can sustain their runs for much longer distances. 

For example, when Commendable won the 2000 Belmont Stakes, somebody asked trainer D. Wayne Lukas how he got a sprinter to win a 12-furlong race. And Lukas said that Commendable galloped the first six furlongs, then it became a six furlong race.

Therefore, I expect the jockeys in this race to come out of the gate with their mounts in a hammerlock and their feet on the dashboard. Also, a slow pace would be disadvantageous to the 2-to-1 betting favorite Mine That Bird, who runs his best races closing from the clouds. That style works best with heated pace battles that burn out the early pace setters in the stretch.

Mine That Bird is a good horse, but I can’t take 2-to-1 at this crazy distance.

The best early speed looks like #6 Charitable Man, who won the Peter Pan while pressing the leader on May 9. However, if Dunkirk runs his best then he should be close to the front on the far turn.

Between these two, Durkirk is the better bet to win at this distance based on the sustained pace rating he earned in the Florida Derby. Two California-based horses — #1 Chocolate Candy and #3 Mr. Hot Stuff — have been running on synthetic surfaces where they have shown that they can run on if the early pace is slow enough.

Finally, D. Wayne Lukas saddles #8 Flying Private, who is improving and must be respected off is 102 Beyer Speed Figure earned in the Preakness Stakes.

At the window, I will bet $250 to win on #2 Dunkirk at 3/1 or better;  $150 on #3 Mr. Hot Stuff and $100 on Chocolate Candy, both at 6/1 or more; and $100 on #8 Flying Private at odds of at least 8/1.

I Want Revenge scratched; Derby looks like 3-horse race

 

Maiden King conquers the Kentucky Derby

Maiden King conquers the Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby, 1-1/4 miles, 3-year-olds

Possible overlays                    Morning line

#1 West Side Bernie                        30/1
#4 Advice                                     30/1
#5 Hold Me Back                            15/1
#6 Friesan Fire                               5/1
#12 General Quarters                      20/1
#13 I Want Revenge                        SCR
#15 Dunkirk                                   4/1
#16 Pioneerof the Nile                    4/1

What this year’s Kentucky Derby is missing is a few speed balls that will gun out of the gate and ensure a hot pace. Many of the prep races this year were run on synthetic tracks where horses run slower early and fast late, so those type of horses got the earnings necessary to enter the Derby.

I Want Revenge would have been helped by a slow pace, but he was scratched this morning due to an ankle injury. Quality Road, who won’t run because of a quarter crack, would have been an easy selection in this race and I believe that he’ll either win the Preakness Stakes or the Belmont. Running second to Quality Road in the Florida Derby, #15 Dunkirk made an eye-popping surge on the turn reminiscent of Monarchos move in the 2001 Florida Derby.

In my computer pace numbers, Dunkirk’s Florida Derby looks a lot like the best prep race run by Real Quiet before that colt won the roses in 1997. Another who looks good in the pace ratings is #6 Friesan Fire based on the race he ran in the March 14 Louisiana Derby.

Bob Baffert, who won this race with Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem, sends out Pioneerof the Nile with jockey Garrett Gomez aboard. Pioneerof the Nile has won four straight graded stakes on the West Coast, but bettors knock him because he’s never run on dirt and never cracked a 100 Beyer Speed Figure.  But Santa Anita has an inner dirt training track and I’m sure Baffert knows that his colt will run well on dirt.

Pioneerof the Nile’s sire Empire Maker won the Belmont Stakes and probably was best in the 2003 Derby, but got a very wide trip the year Funny Cide won. Pioneer’s dam, Star of Goshen, was trained by Mike Puype who said she was the best horse he ever had — even better than Old Trieste.

The previous three horses — Friesan Fire, Dunkirk and Pioneerof the Nile — all figure to be bet below 6/1, but the following four longshots have a chance with a few breaks — and they could be any price: #1 West Side Bernie, #4 Advice, #5 Hold Me Back and #12 General Quarters.

These longshots all seem to be getting better at the right time and any one of them could improve or just may take to the wet track, which will probably be packed down so it drains better. At an average price of 20-to-1, betting a small amount on all four of these horses is just like wagering on one 4-to-1 shot.

Betting this race, I will  put $250 on any of these horses at 4/1 or more #6 Friesan Fire, #15 Dunkirk and #16 Pioneerof the Nile. Also, at 20/1 or better I will put $40 on any of these #1 West Side Bernie, #4 Advice, #5 Hold Me Back and #12 General Quarters.

Gomez leaning toward Dunkirk, it seems, for Derby mount

Trainer Bob Baffert won Sunday's seventh with #9 Irish Gypsy, owned by Mike Pegram. (Flickr photo by Yausser)

Will Garrett Gomez ride Pioneerof the Nile for Baffert in the Ky Derby?

Dunkirk or Pioneerof the Nile?

Hmm.

Pioneerof the Nile or Dunkirk?

Those are the thoughts that will be going through jockey Garrett Gomez’ head this weekend as he decides which horse to ride in the May 2 Kentucky Derby.

Gomez said on his NTRA blog Thursday that the decision is a tough one because he has good relationships with both trainers — Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert — and both owners. But on Sunday, he will pick either Dunkirk or Pioneerof the Nile.

And after reading the complete NTRA blog entry, Gomez seems to be leaning toward Dunkirk.

Gomez’ blog delves into the pros and cons of each horse. In the Florida Derby, Gomez was impressed by the strong move Dunkirk made on Quality Road. He also noted that Dunkirk galloped out ahead of Quality Road after the wire.

“I don’t think a mile and a quarter will be a problem with him at all,” Gomez wrote.

He describes Pioneerof the Nile as more of a head case, who doesn’t run hard when he makes the lead.

“He hasn’t really done anything wrong when I’ve ridden him in the afternoons, but in a couple of races on him I’ve been a little uncomfortable because the simple fact is, I know there’s more to him,” Gomez wrote. “When he makes the lead, he has pulled up a little bit in a few of his races, and it feels like you’ve got a target on your back and somebody’s gonna come and nail you.”

Baffert to pitch Gomez camp Friday to ride ‘Pioneer’

Bob Baffert will try to secure services of Garrett Gomez on Friday

Bob Baffert will try to secure services of Garrett Gomez on Friday

Over the years, Bob Baffert has trained horses for some of the richest, most successful owners in the business.

When it comes to training their stock, these owners don’t just pick names out of a hat. Many of them got rich by operating large companies and by seeking out and hiring the very best people.

I’m sure over the years, Baffert has learned to use his confident, yet reasonable demeanor to persuade owners that he is a better choice to run their stables than, say, Bobby Frankel, Richard Mandella or John Sadler.   

And it’s those very sales skills that Baffert needs to draw on Friday in Lexington when he tries to convince Garrett Gomez’ camp to choose to ride Pioneerof the Nile over Dunkirk in the Kentucky Derby. On Monday, Gomez’ agent Ron Anderson and Baffert exchanged several telephone calls and finally agreed to meet in Lexington Friday to discuss whether Gomez will ride Pioneerof the Nile or not, according to the Daily Racing Form.

Baffert was going to Kentucky anyway to saddle Mythical Power in Saturday’s Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Over the years, Baffert and Anderson have done lots of business together, as Anderson’s former client Gary Stevens rode Silver Charm and many other Baffert notables.

But the Gomez-Anderson team also has a great relationship with Dunkirk’s trainer Todd Pletcher, who they have ridden many stakes winners for, too. Furthermore, Dunkirk ran a 108 Beyer Speed Figure in the Florida Derby on a dirt track, while Pioneerof the Nile has never cracked 100 in eight tries — all on either synthetic surfaces or grass.

There’s a lot at stake on this decision for Baffert because Gomez knows Pioneerof the Nile, having ridden him to four straight graded stakes victories. Baffert likes veteran jockeys on his best horses and right now nobody is better than Gomez, who won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top jockey for the last two years.

Everyone knows that it’s late in the game, so many of the leading riders are committed to Derby horses. If Anderson and Gomez snub Baffert and choose Dunkirk, then who will Baffert turn to?

John Velasquez is riding Quality Road, Rafael Bejarano is on Papa Clem and Joel Rosario will be aboard Chocolate Candy. Maybe Edgar Prado will be the choice, as his mount Imperial Council will not run in the Derby. Or Baffert may pick David Flores, who he’s had luck with in the past.

Baffert will probably try to sell Anderson on his great record in the 3-year-old Classic races over the last decade or so. And it’s true, Baffert’s been the best: Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Congaree, Point Given and War Emblem, for the most part, all ran their eyeballs out in the Triple Crown series.

The Gomez camp will have to make their decision based not only on the Derby, but the Preakness and Belmont as well. Anderson and Gomez will look silly if they chose wrong and watch either Dunkirk or Pioneerof the Nile win while they’re riding the other horse.

Baffert, a finalist for racing’s Hall of Fame, is no doubt a great trainer.

But on Friday he also needs to be a great pitchman.

%d bloggers like this: