Calvin Borel’s Derby hopes could get a boost this week

| March 23, 2011

With just over six weeks remaining before Kentucky Derby 137, the jockeys who appear to be in prime spots for success in this year’s Run for the Roses include John Velazquez, Garrett Gomez and Alan and Martin Garcia.

Velazquez, still looking for his first win in the Derby, occupies an enviable spot as the regular rider for unbeaten champion Uncle Mo, the strong favorite to be wearing the roses on Saturday, May 7 at Churchill Downs.

Gomez won eclipse

Gomez, the Eclipse Award winner as America’s top jockey last year, recently picked up the mount on To Honor and Serve, one of the outstanding 2-year-olds of 2010 who would return to short-list status on the roster of possible Derby victors should he return to form in the upcoming Florida Derby.

Alan Garcia rides Soldat, a rapidly improving colt who whipped To Honor and Serve in the Fountain of Youth, and Martin Garcia is the current “go to” rider for three-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert. That puts the latter, though unrelated, Garcia in the saddle aboard The Factor, the speedy winner of last week’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Where is Borel?

Conspicuous by his absence from that discussion is Calvin Borel, who – after all – has won the Kentucky Derby in three of the past four years and has a two-Derby winning streak after back-to-back wins aboard Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver last year.

That could change this weekend after Borel pilots a relatively unproven colt named Elite Alex in the 98th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds.

At the moment – and this is fairly amazing to me – Elite Alex, who has one win in three career starts – is Borel’s only serious possible mount for the Kentucky Derby.

No phone calls!

How Borel’s phone would not be ringing constantly at this time of year with calls from owners and trainers interested in his services is beyond me. I’m pretty sure that situation will remedied as the Derby draws closer, the race strategy becomes more defined and the jockeying for mounts intensified. But it borders on the unbelievable that Borel, after dominating the Derby over a four-year stretch like no rider in its 136-year history, does not have a half-dozen strong contenders on his list of Derby prospects.

But in regard to Elite Alex and his still modest accomplishments, the son of 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex might have ended up being Borel’s top choice in any case.

After winning at first asking last July at Delaware Park for trainer Tim Ritchey, who also trained the colt’s sire, Elite Alex did not run again until Jan. 11, when he finished a troubled second in a one-mile allowance race at Oaklawn Park. He followed that run with another less-than-perfect journey in a third-place run behind Archarcharch in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Borel confident

Scheduled to run against The Factor in last week’s Rebel, Ritchey scratched Elite Alex and shipped him to New Orleans for a run in the Louisiana Derby.

“Really and truly, I like this horse a lot,” Borel said by telephone late last week. “I think he’ll be peaking at the right time, which I always like and has happened with each of my Derby horses.”

The first of those was Street Sense, the reigning 2-year-old champion and Derby favorite who rallied from 18th to provide Borel with his first win in the Run for the Roses in 2007. He was followed by Mine That Bird, the diminutive longshot who skipped through the slop to pass a record 18 rivals in the space of a quarter mile in the 2009 renewal on his way to a 6 ¾-length victory and the second-biggest upset in the history of the race. Super Saver then provided Borel’s third win– and his second in a row – with a perfect trip in last year’s race.

The 44-year-old Louisiana legend said it is possible that Elite Alex could be that kind of horse.

“He reminds me a lot of Street Sense,” Borel said. “I’m very high on him.”

Although he is not sitting on a favorite for the 2011 Kentucky Derby – Elite Alex is, in fact, only the third choice in the morning line odds for the Louisiana Derby – Borel is in position to continue his journey into territory where no jockey has gone before.

A big run by Elite Alex in the Louisiana Derby would quickly insert Borel into this year’s Kentucky Derby discussion. Trainer Ritchey is due for some luck after saddling the colt’s sire for a hard-luck third-place finish behind Giacomo in the 2005 Derby.

Afleet Alex rebounded with a romp in the Preakness, although he was nearly knocked down by a rival at the head of the stretch, and won the Belmont Stakes in a gallop. Afleet Alex fell short in the Derby, but was clearly the best horse of his generation.

The presence of Calvin Borel in the saddle aboard his son can only improve the colt’s chances.

Borel’s run of three wins in four Derbies is unprecedented. Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack, tied atop the list of all-time Derby wins by a jockey with five, could not match that achievement. Neither could Bill Shoemaker, who won four Derbys, or any of the other members of riding royalty who have collected three wins in the big race beneath the Twin Spires: Kent Desormeaux, Gary Stevens, Isaac Murphy, Earl Sande and Angel Cordero Jr.

And no jockey in Kentucky Derby history has ever won three consecutive renewals of America’s greatest race. Calvin Borel, on a streak of success like no other in Kentucky Derby history, has that chance.

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  1. linda says:

    One has to wonder if Calvin’s name not being in the running for top mounts is the result of sour grapes mentality of the top trainers he has beaten in the past. What else could it be, and if so, what a sad statement for racing and the character of those trainers.

  2. linda says:

    But even more importantly, when Calvin has added so much positive interest and excitement to racing when racing is in dire need of it, it adds an even more bitter feeling about those trainers. TOO BAD FOR RACING. SURELY THIS IS NOT THE MESSAGE RACING WANTS OR NEEDS TO SEND.

    SHAME ON YOU TRAINERS.

  3. chief43 says:

    Unbelievable that Calvin Borel is not in contention for top 3 year olds! What are those sour prima donna trainers and owners thinking of? Talk about no class, this borders on rediculious trying to intensionally block someone who not only has done what none other has done, but has worked so hard to get here and in doing so brought so much Positive Attention to racing.. Does the public need to see the seedy side of the racing world at it’s worse like this?

  4. Matt Corr says:

    Calvin is first class! Having been at the last 2 Derbies… Borel’s wins were the highlight of both! You can see it in his face… this man epitomizes good things happening to good people. You look around at Churchill Downs and see the silly hats and the expensive searsucker suits, and the overpriced drinks… it is quite a spectacle. Calvin Borel reminds us all why we are there and his passion is contagious. In no other sport is a person’s name so synonymous with both genuity and success. Calvin Borel will ride, and by God… he will somehow pull it off again!