If anybody saw jockey Calvin Borel on the Late Show with David Letterman last night, they saw pretty much what would be expected. Honest-to-goodness Calvin Borel. Ever polite and quite composed, he was as insightful as the format allowed and he came through with his patent unpredictability when Letterman stunned him with the outfit question. My bottom line is that anytime one gets to hear a good horseman like Borel talk about good horses it's cool.
But I fear Calvin has a tough task ahead of him on favorite Mine That Bird today in the Belmont. And nobody could have said it better than Churchill Downs Communications man Darren Rogers. Today on his facebook page Rogers admitted that he and his Chuchill crew will be pulling for Mine That Bird in New York, but that he saw an upset in the making. The villian according to Rogers? Pace. The very thing I have written about throughout the week.
What is Borel going to do when the pace of the Belmont is slow as anticpated. Will he move Mine That Bird within striking distance a little earlier? Will that comprosise his patent late rush? Or Borel can lay far back behind a slow pace and still try to make a still make that late run and hope he can still catch the less tired leaders. To me this is the second most anticipated point in the race behind only the finish... and way ahead of the singing of New York New York.
On paper Dunkirk looks to me to be the logical choice. His second-place finish behind Quality Road in the Floriday Derby in late March is a far better performance than most of these other runners have yet achieved. He will also be saddled by champion trainer Todd Pletcher and ridden by jockey John Valazquez, a perenial leader among the East Coast riders. Valazquez knows the large Belmont oval known as the "big sandy" as well as anybody and won the Belmont Stakes two years ago with Pletcher and the filly Rags to Riches.
According to Progessive Handicapping, Borel has only three races over the Belmont track in the last three years with a second and a third. The record is of little consequence. What concerns me is that the 1-1/2 main track at Belmont Park is 50 percent larger than the Kentucky and Arkansas tracks on which Borel regularly rides. Many riders have fallen victim to the big track at the Big Apple and that list does not discriminate against Hall of Famers.
Usually much more reserved, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has been boasting all week about his Belmont starter Charitable Man. The anticipated second choice in the wagering is coming off of a victory at Belmont Park in winning the grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes May 9 so we know he likes the track. And Charitable Man does have the home-track advantage as well as McClughlin has been basing Charitbable Man out of his barn at Belmont Park.
Nobody wants Mine That Bird and Calvin Borel to win this race more than me. Not only do I think it would be very fun to have a horse like Mine That Bird continue on his path to racing stardom, but to see Calvin Borel win the Triple Crown in such distinctive fashion will be somthing people will remember for a long time. If Mine That Bird achieves to status and following of the last Kentucky Derby winning gelding Funny Cide, it will be to the benefit of all racing fans. That late acceleration that he has makes him even more exciting and fun to watch.
And those post-victory horseback interviews with Borel on network television are worth the price of admission alone. It won't matter if we see the emotional Calvin Borel we saw following the Kentucky Derby or a more calm Calvin Borel talking about how he just chirped to the little horse and he just went on. Listening to Borel talk about horses is cool.