It’s been an unusual lead-up to the Kentucky Derby, but nothing has been odder than the way Calvin Borel became the forgotten jockey. You would think that by winning three of the last four Derbies you could write your own ticket, pick any horse you want. But just a few days ago Borel was without a mount and had to settle for Twice the Appeal, one of the lesser-regarded horses in the field.
It’s unlikely that Borel’s star power has dimmed, at least when it comes to the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs. (Coming off another ordinary meet at Oaklawn Park, where he was sixth in the standings, he reminded people he doesn’t wear his Superman cape anyplace but Churchill). It seems more a matter of bad timing, bad luck and bad decisions.
Borel lined himself up early on with a colt named Elite Alex. Prior to his first start with Borel aboard, a Jan. 15 allowance at Oaklawn, all he had done was to break his maiden. But he looked like a horse with potential.
Elite Alex strung together four straight losses this year, the last of which, a ninth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby, knocked him off the Kentucky Derby trail.
“We were kind of set on the horse we were riding at Oaklawn (Elite Alex) and I thought he was a little bit better horse than that,” Borel said. “He just didn’t pan out like I thought he would. I’m not saying that hurt us but it didn’t help us.”
It appears that Borel never had a Plan B, which, in hindsight, was a mistake. Most top jockeys and their agents have a Plan B, C, D and E when it comes to potential Derby mounts.
By the time Elite Alex was straggling across the finish line in the Arkansas Derby, most of the top Kentucky Derby contenders had their jockeys. Still, it’s surprising that some trainer didn’t maneuver to get Borel. Some are no doubt going to regret it. Half the jockeys in the bulky Derby field wind up finding their way into trouble, while Borel gives his mount a seamless ride year after year.
It appeared for a while that Todd Pletcher, who used Borel last year on Derby winner Super Saver, was going to go back to Calvin. He had him work long shot Stay Thirsty but wound up sticking with Ramon Dominguez.
It was about that time that the owners of Twice the Appeal began hunting for a jockey to replace Christian Santiago Reyes, who was aboard the colt for his win in the Sunland Derby.
“The owners took a vote and decided to replace him,” trainer Jeff Bonde said. “They just wanted someone more experienced.”
Borel got the call.
“I wasn’t really surprised,” he said when asked to comment on his not having a mount. “But this is a relief.”
Twice the Appeal’s credential are modest ones, but at least Bonde can go into the race knowing his horse is likely to get a good trip.
“From a trainer’s standpoint, (having Borel) relieves a lot of pressure for me,” he said. “It’s a large field and the majority of horses end up getting troubled trips. These owners invest huge amounts of money to get to this race. Eliminating a perception problem is foremost for a person in my position. As far as this rider, you have the term ‘horse for the course,’ well, you have to say he’s a ‘rider for the course.’ His results here are astounding. We’re excited to have him.”
Twice the Appeal looks a lot better on paper than Borel’s 2009 winner, Mine the Bird, did. At least Twice the Appeal won the Sunland Derby. Mine That Bird was fourth in the same race.
“I’m going to go out there and ride him like he’s 3-5,” Borel said. “That’s the thing about the Derby — anything can happen. There’s a reason he’s in there. He did something to get there. If this horse shows up he has every opportunity to be in the race.”
It will be interesting to see how the bettors react to Borel’s presence. Twice the Appeal looks like a 40-1 or 50-1 shot, but they’ll never let a Borel mount in the Derby get away at that price. Don’t be surprised if he is 20-1 or lower.
That’s a reflection of how much horseplayers think of Borel. Still, he can’t carry the horse over the wire. Can he work another miracle? Probably not, but bet against him at your own risk. In the Kentucky Derby, that is always the case.
Originally Posted on ESPN