In the Six Degrees of Separation Department, Borel and Douglas are intertwined. The jockey who tried to take over Douglas' path at the top of the Arlington stretch, causing a spill that killed a filly and left a colleague numb from the waist down, was Jamie Theriot, who is Borel's second cousin. Posthaste, the Arlington stewards levied a 30-day suspension against Theriot, though not in time to keep him from winning a stake at his home track, Churchill Downs, two days after the accident. Reacting as quickly as the stewards, a Daily Racing Form reporter characterized the month-long penalty as "harsh." Theriot may appeal. What he did, moving his filly off the fence just as Douglas and his mount were trying to squeeze by from the outside in a crowd of horseflesh, may not have been kosher, but the issue, if it goes to a higher body, is whether the suspension squares with the crime. Regardless of that outcome, Theriot's real penance is spending the rest of his days not being able to forget Rene Douglas.
Douglas' ill-fated assignment on Born To Be, the last horse he rode, didn't have to be. He had never ridden the filly before, and the only jockey to have ridden her this year was Robby Albarado, who had won a race with her at Keeneland last month. But the same day as the Arlington race, Albarado had another stakes assignment at Churchill Downs, where he was also named on nine other mounts. Born To Be's trainer, Eric Coatrieux, couldn't have come up with a better catch rider in Douglas, six-time champion at Arlington and a jockey who has always been confident enough in himself that he'd ride anywhere, including for a time the tough California circuit.
It was while riding in California that Douglas happened across the horse that would give him the biggest win of his career. Editor's Note was one of those typical Wayne Lukas 3-year-olds, a colt who couldn't win yet never ran out of chances. Lukas, running five horses, won the 1996 Kentucky Derby with Grindstone, while Editor's Note finished up the track. By the Belmont, Grindstone was through, so Lukas threw in Editor's Note, on a nine-race losing streak and winless since the previous September. Gary Stevens, who had ridden Editor's Note in the Florida Derby, the Blue Grass, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, was due for knee surgery in another week, and the Belmont, which drew a field of 14, had sucked up most of the name jockeys, although Eddie Maple, the future Hall of Famer, was available. On entry day, two days before the Belmont, Lukas called on Douglas, who had never ridden in a Triple Crown race. Douglas had already taken a call on a stakes race at Hollywood Park, but Randy Bradshaw, a former Lukas assistant, excused him so he could ride in the Belmont.
Editor's Note, 13 lengths from the lead and ahead of only two horses after the opening half-mile, came on to beat Skip Away by a length. Lukas, who could embellish a weather report, said afterwards: "The reason I picked Rene is because he's got ice-water in his veins. I knew when they started singing 'New York, New York,' in the post parade, he wouldn't get rattled."
The day of the 42-year-old Douglas' horrid spill at Arlington, the 42-year-old Calvin Borel was winning five races at Churchill. The next day he won three, and the day after that he won five more. And by the way, one of those days, Borel worked Mine That Bird, his second Kentucky Derby winner in three years, even though the continuing Belmont intrigue leaves him with no guarantee that he'll be aboard the sawed-off gelding in New York. Borel's decision is tied into whether his Preakness winner, Rachel Alexandra, runs in the Belmont. I say Borel should spot them all a few lengths and ride Luv Gov in the Belmont.
The David Letterman show, confident that Borel will ride someone, is taping an interview that will be shown the night before the race. That's a nice exacta for the aw-shucks Borel, who nailed the front end with an appearance with Jay Leno the week of the Preakness. Frankly, I thought Leno could have done better. He belabored most of the interview with Borel's eighth-grade education and his hardscrabble beginnings in the boonies of Louisiana. I thought that Leno and another guest, Dennis Miller, were laughing at rather than with Borel most of the time, and not once did Leno, in an oh-by-the-way, allude to the fact that Calvin would be riding the filly instead of the Derby winner in the Preakness.
But if Borel was offended, it didn't show. Whether it's riding the rails to win the Derby, or hobnobbing in Hollywood, Nonchalance is his middle name.