Calvin Borel won the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Everyone wanted a piece of Calvin Borel—The Tonight Show, The Late Show, and Pardon the Interruption, not to mention all the print outlets that gave his phone insomnia. It had yet to reach the point of nausea, though that would come. Borel was the rock star of a dying sport.
Back when Rachel Alexandra was simply an impressive female horse lacking the crossover appeal that turned the filly into an icon, Borel rode her to five straight victories at a slew of tracks in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Kentucky.
When he won the Fair Grounds Oaks, Borel peeked back at the field, steered Rachel Alexandra in a hand ride, and celebrated from the sixteenth pole, indicating that they were a sixteenth of a mile from the finish line. Dolphus Morrisson, then the owner of Rachel Alexandra, clouded more by rage than jubilation, roared up to his jockey, and said, “Borel, if I ever catch you doing anything like this on a horse of this caliber, anything at all that would’ve caused her to swerve a little bit, you would’ve been face first in that mud out there.”
Borel was no stranger to the winner’s circle, and at the time Rachel Alexandra’s first trainer, Hal Wiggins, was giving Borel a leg up on her back, Borel was near five thousand wins. In horsemen’s circles Borel was well known, a jock who woke in the mornings to darkness, whose early days on the Louisiana bush tracks hardened his ethic and calloused his hands while he mucked stalls and rubbed horses. But with a near last-to-first ride on Street Sense in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, the world soon met Calvin Borel and, it seemed, was better for it. So it was, in this instance, that yes, he had been there before.
Out of his near-five thousand wins, he had never been on a horse as good as Rachel Alexandra, and until a jockey has sat on a chest of buried treasure like her, he’d best keep his tongue tied about at-the-wire antics. Already comparisons had been made to Ruffian, regarded as the greatest filly in the history of horse racing. Ruffian’s only defeat came when she catastrophically
broke down in a match race against Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure. Comparisons have been made to the late-great Secretariat, namely because he and Rachel Alexandra have such long strides, freakishly long. When in full gallop, Secretariat could cover nearly half the distance between home plate and a major league pitcher’s mound. Rachel Alexandra possessed that stride, the way a certain measure of afflatus is dolloped on the most fortunate of athletic specimens. She was in that company. Which is why Borel, who normally takes the summer off, turned the ignition, shifted into “D,” and motored east to Saratoga Springs to ensure that she wouldn’t get away. His fear was that if he was out of sight, then out of mind would follow, and he’d be damned if he were both. Not with this filly.
Come back Saturday July 9th to see what Rachel Alexandra was up to in Six Weeks in Saratoga. You can order a copy from SUNY Press or from a your favorite bookseller. "Like" "Six Weeks in Saratoga" on Facebook and follow Brendan O'Meara on Twitter.
Posted by permission from Six Weeks in Saratoga by Brendan O'Meara, the State University of New York Press (c)2011, State University of New York. All rights reserved.