BALTIMORE – Calvin Borel may not be book smart, but he’s nobody’s fool.
By his own admission, he doesn’t read or write well, but he can decipher a Daily Racing Form, can handicap a horse race and we all know he’s not afraid to dive into a hole. It’s an even-money bet he’s never heard the one about not changing horses in midstream and even if he did, what does that have to do with changing horses in mid-Triple Crown?
Borel found himself a better ride, and he took it. End of story.
Except, of course, that it is only the beginning of the story, and it won’t be until this evening that we will know its ending.
But horse racing is all about playing the percentages and in the considered opinion of Borel, Rachel Alexandra has a better chance of winning today’s Preakness than any of her 12 male challengers, including Mine That Bird, whom he rode to a breathtaking victory in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago.
It is a gutsy, even risky decision by Borel and his agent, Jerry Hissam, to forgo a chance at the immortality of winning the Triple Crown in favor of pulling down the winner’s share of the $1.1-million purse.
If you think that makes him a rat, then you are one of those poor misguided souls who think the racetrack is a petting zoo and the Kentucky Derby a dressage event, where there also happens to be betting windows.
Borel loves horses the way Alex Rodriguez loves himself and knows them the way Warren Buffett knows money. Since he was 8 years old, all he’s wanted to do was ride them, but he’s not 8 anymore. He’s a 42-year-old man who was unknown to many before 2007, when he won the Derby with a similar come-from-behind, rail-scraping ride aboard an animal named Street Sense.
Now he rides horses for money first, love second, and he – and most important, Hissam – believes his best shot to take home the money today is to hitch a ride on the filly.
“Calvin and I and the rest of the world think she’s the best thing on four legs,” said Hissam, who speaks for his jock the way oldtime fight managers used to speak for their fighters. “There was no thought process involved. I got a commitment to the filly, and I was going to keep it, no matter what.”
Even if Borel had ridden Mine That Bird to victory in the Derby and Preakness and stood just a mile-and-a-half from racing immortality?
“Absolutely,” Hissam said. “He’s getting killed (in the media) here for hopping off the horse, but we made a commitment to the filly and we were going to keep it, even if it meant skipping the Belmont. What would they have said then?”
Presumably, exactly what they are saying now, only worse. That the kid’s an ingrate. A front-runner. A dope.
None of which, of course, is remotely close to the truth.
Borel is no doubt loyal to certain horses – he has ridden Rachel Alexandra in five straight victories, including her 201/4- length romp in the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Derby – but like all jockeys, he is a businessman as well as a horseman.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.