Thursday, March 14, 2013
For Calvin, the Long Road to 5,000
It was on Calvin Borel’s mind, dating as far back as 2009, sitting outside the jock’s room at Saratoga. Now it was no longer a pie in the sky, no, 5,000 wins was tangible and on March 7, 2013, Calvin Bo-Rail at long last hit it.
But let me tell you, brother, it was a long, long road.
For much of his career, it wasn’t uncommon for him to win two, three, four races on a card. Javier Castellano just won five a few days ago thanks to Fort Larned diving worse than a soccer player. Borel notched win 4,999aboard Malibu High on December 21, 2012 at Fair Grounds. It took him 76 days to get the monkey off his back.
The trainer of Malibu High is none other than Cecil Borel, Calvin’s older brother. Cecil brought Calvin along, practically raised him, and put him on any number of horses to help Boo-Boo (Calvin’s nickname) make a name, get his start, set the stage. Not only that, but Malibu High is owned by Clifford and Mary K. Glum, long time supporters of the Borels.
As much as they wanted to get No. 5,000 at Churchill Downs, it wasn’t going to happen, pending some serious disaster, of course, that would have delayed his bid until May of 2013.
2012 and early 2013 wasn’t kind to Calvin. Once he got win 4,999, he suffered a mishap during training hours at Oaklawn, fell off a horse, and broke his wrist. Six Weeks in Rehab starting January 8.
That was merely the physical. Most of 2012 saw his agent Jerry Hissam deal with heart issues. He ultimately had open-heart surgery in December, just as Calvin made the push toward 5,000. Everything funnels through Hissam. The pair have been winning races, winning Derbies, winning Horse of the Year, for 22 years, back when the U.S.A. was in Gulf War I.
Imagine shouldering that kind of burden and then breaking a wrist? And what if a girl you liked got really sick?
Rachel Alexandra delivered her 140-pound Bernardini filly on February 12, 2013. No problems, until there was a problem that sent the social media world orbiting horse racing into a collective vigil when it surfaced that Rachel Alexandra was sick. Very sick.
It was a tough birth and she was off her feed soon thereafter. A bacterial infection surfaced in a section of her colon, which had lost its blood supply.
“[That] led to compromising the integrity of the intestinal wall, which led to bacteria gaining access to the cavity,” Dr. Brett Woodie told DRF at the time.
The doctors removed the injured portion and connected the loose ends. But this isn’t exactly soldering wires or connecting PVC. The colon has a lot of bacteria—some good and bad—but that needs to be harbored within. Her condition was “very serious”.
Hissam has come around and so too has Rachel Alexandra, at least to date. Which allowed Calvin to focus on what he does best: ride horses. The watch was for him to win No. 5,000 was on. It took several mounts, but on March 7, he finally turned loose on the 9-2 Father Steve to win by four lengths.
Win No. 5,001? Nailed it in the Honeybee Stakes aboard Rose to Gold and earned 50 points toward the Kentucky Oaks. He won gate-to-wire, a Borel specialty. And this guy knows a thing or two about riding a filly in the Oaks.
Now, with 5,000 in the rear view, Borel takes aim at the Hall of Fame, for which he's been nominated twice. If I had a vote—and only one—it’d go right on the nose of Calvin Borel.
The past year has been tough on this Cajun fella and it's about time things got a little easier for a man who's never had anything handed to him. It’s time to reward this guy for his commitment to, and love for, the grand ol’ game.
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Thursday, March 07, 2013
Longevity to the Top
Kudos to Joseph the Catfish. This guy seems to have the right idea. He’s as irreverent as they come. In his first start at Turfway Park, he ditched his jockey, jumped a fence, and bolted toward I-75. I’ve been to Turfway. I’m with the horse. Maybe he didn’t care for Polytrack.
Poor fella was caught. I guess the only place harder to escape than Alcatraz is a horse track. Some horses embrace it and the sooner they do they better they’ll perform. Naturally these grizzled vets make a bit of news when they return to the track. Comma to the Top was the ferocious, tenacious, ostentatious winner of the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap at lovely Aqueduct.
He was passed once, nearly passed another time, yet refused to ultimately be passed by a field of willing foes. This is horse is a gamer. He’s an alpha. You can just tell. He “can make you feel high, full of the single greatest commodity known to man. Promise. Promise of a greater day. Promise of a greater hope. Promise of a new tomorrow. This particular aura, can be found in the gait of a fast race horse, in its smile, in its soul, and how it can make every little rotten thing about life seem like it’s going to be OK. The fast race horses, Will, that’s all they are. Bottled promise, scenes from a brand new day, hope dancing in quarter-inch bends.”
Go on, check the freezer for human heads.
“A fast race horse is all powerful and that’s as good as love. That’s as good as love.”
Last I remember Comma to the Top he finished last of them all in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, fulfilling a long line of three-year-old sprinters thrust into a race 30 percent too long for them. When you’re a gelding you don’t have as many options in life. It’s either run, or, I don’t know, do card shows in maybe the most depressing Golden Year Gig ever
. I mean ever. (Put him in the Hall, already. You guys are gamblers. Surely you sympathize).
What C Triple T did this past weekend was nothing short of a throwback performance. He set blistering fractions and refused to be passed. But the funny thing is, he just finished third a week before in the Grade 2 San Carlos … in Cali … Then his trainer, Peter Miller, put C Triple T on a plane dead set for NYC. No sense in training him. Train him in a race and maybe make some bank.
“The horse performed pretty well last time [in the Grade 2 San Carlos a week ago at Santa Anita], so we took a shot, considering the horse came out of it very good,” said Martin Contreras, Miller’s assistant trainer. “This guy is a tough fighter, and when in he’s in his right moment he fights pretty tough. We got lots of luck [on the photo finish]. Thank God on that one!”
Horses, whether gelded or not, deserve extra cred. The N Y R A works in incentives for juveniles and for turf races of a certain field size. How about a longevity incentive? I’ve written before that to keep horses in training longer, the risk (read: penalty) of loss on future breeding value needs to be levied. If it’s an across-the-board appeal to de-penalize these horses then what’s the problem? Breeders will have better insight into this, but a more attractive racing product can only help them, I’d think.
HRI’s most famous troll doesn’t give a rat’s you-know-what about “big names” and simply wants his shot at the “nags” under the leaky roof. Great. That’s 1 % of the people who pledge allegiance to horse racing.
The cynic will say that keeping a horse around merely for bonuses may hurt the horse. You keep him/her around longer than it should, connections run the risk of running unsound, old horses into the ground for a few extra grand. For every innovation there’s a cynic there to swing his axe.
Jess Jackson had the right idea when holding out for more dough. Many thought he was greedy; many thought he held tracks hostage. But think about it from his angle. He brings a BIG HORSE to the Woodward and instead of 18,000 people betting and buying food, there are 30,000 people buying food, paying admission, etc.
Professional tennis players get all kinds of bonuses for playing abroad (a big reason you don’t see any great players State side except for the U.S. Open). It’s time that marquee horses and connections stick around so we can see what C Triple T’s of the circuit can do.
He paid $6.30, by the way, not bad when you think about it.
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Game On, Dudes
The horse who has the most appeal outside of Royal Delta this year is Game On Dude. He makes his second start of the year in two days in the other big Saturday of the spring—the Santa Anita Handicap, The Big Cap.
Game On Dude, or, as I like to call him, GOD, won the Big Cap two years ago under an umbrella of controversy (he was practically at a 45-degree angle with the dirt when he collided with Twirling Candy. Unbelievable). You remember it, right?
Chantel Sutherland came over and collided with Twirling Candy (subsequently dominoeing Setsuko).
There was a long, long inquiry, then GOD and Sutherland were awarded the win vaulting GOD to that upper tier of handicap horses and giving Sutherland the most iconic win of her short pre-TVG career. (As an aside, this race will go down as a Top Ten for the decade for the impact of Sutherland getting the win and how GOD just wouldn’t give in.)
The long meandering road of a 6-year-old Grade 1-winner is a sight to behold. At three he was fourth in the Belmont Stakes, losing to the ultimate wet blanket and buzz kill Drosselmeyer, trained by Bill Mott. Drosselmeyer is German for “not fun”, as in, awe, man, wmcorrow is in the comments again? He’s so drosselmeyer. True story.
At age four he won the Big Cap, the Goodwood and nearly won the Breeders’ Cup Classic when he lost to the ultimate wet blanket and buzz kill Drosselmeyer. It was jockey Mike Smith versus his old squeeze Sutherland at the wire. Sutherland lost the mount on GOD in late 2012 before she unexpectedly retired in the fall. A total drosselmeyer.
Guess who has the mount on GOD now. Mike Smith. S&S can’t get out of each other's way. Either that or California racing is as incestuous middle Appalachia.
GOD was an impressive winner of the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Super Bowl Sunday, but not as impressive as Bob Baffert, his trainer, would have it. Knowing GOD runs well fresh—he hadn’t run since December 1 when he won the Native Diver Stakes—Baffert wanted a more relaxing win against three other rivals in the San Antonio.
"He grabbed himself a little bit on the ankle coming away from there, but it looked pretty superficial," Baffert told the Blood-Horse or the Santa Anita press department. I pulled it from Blood-Horse, so there you are. "The horse runs well fresh. I really didn't want to run that fast early. I wanted him to cruise around there. I wanted a Flashback kind of a win (referring to Flashback's easy win in last Saturday's Robert B. Lewis Stakes). We'll see how it takes its toll on him, but he ran a good race."
Frankly, I would have much rather have watched GOD’s race than the Ray-vens. Ugh. But you can’t host a party featuring the San Antonio. Or you could. But it would be a total drosselmeyer.
GOD will carry a high-weight of 126 pounds Saturday when he challenges another classic winner; Ron the Greek, trained by Bill Mott. Ron the Greek is the most recent winner of the Big Cap which makes it all the more confusing why he carries 122 pounds versus GOD’s 126.
“Every time I run against those good horses, they beat me,” Baffert said. “My horse is a tough little horse, but Ron the Greek’s tough, too.”
GOD has never won carrying more than 124 pounds, especially tough for a horse who likes to do most of his running on the front end.
The handicap division, at least in my opinion, starts to get serious with the Big Cap. They’re all running up a mountain at this point and GOD can be the first up Sinai, followed closely by the Donn winner
Graydar was an impressive winner of the Donn. I was really hoping race caller Larry Collmus was going to say, “Graydar goes all the way-dar.” But he stopped just short of an awesome, maybe world-changing pun, opting for the more socially appropriate, “Graydar goes all the way.”
We’ve never been about social appropriate-ness here at the Carryover. No doubt a big reason we don’t get invited to go places like coffee dates, Super Bowl parties, or pancake breakfasts at the local ladder. I’ll take my bad puns and bourbon-swilling solitude. Drosselmeyer??
Though GOD is partly owned by Joe Torre, former Yankees manager and sempiternal thorn for Red Sox fans, I’m rooting for GOD.
I hear he’s good to have on your side.
Written by Brendan O'Meara