Borel takes advantage with long shot

Updated: May 4, 2009, 4:20 PM ET
Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Calvin Borel built his reputation as a jockey by taking whatever work would come his way, be it $5,000 claimers or $1 million superstars.

So Borel didn't worry too much when he got his first look at tiny, unproven Mine That Bird, Borel's mount in the Kentucky Derby. Big or small, fast or slow, Borel knew his job was to do more than just jog the unheralded gelding around muddy Churchill Downs.

"You got a hole, you got a shot," Borel said. "I rode him like a good horse."

Borel helped turn him into a champion.

Putting together the kind of rail-hugging move that has helped him earn the nickname "Bo-rail," the 42-year-old rider guided Mine That Bird into the second biggest upset in Derby history and put an emphatic exclamation point on the best weekend of his nomadic career.

Borel won the Kentucky Oaks on Friday aboard monster filly Rachel Alexandra, blowing past the field by a record 20 1/4 lengths.

He didn't expect to be back in the winner's circle so soon, or so easily. Yet Borel became just the seventh jockey to pull the Oaks/Derby double and the first since Jerry Bailey in 1993 with a 6¾-length victory, the largest margin in the Run for the Roses in more than 60 years.

"Really and truly, you got to be surprised," Borel said. "What can I say? The horse is in the Derby for a reason."

Mine That Bird proved it during a dazzling run that brought to mind Borel's win aboard Street Sense in the Derby two years ago.

Urged to be patient by trainer Bennie Woolley, Borel didn't panic when his horse broke last and loped lazily along as the field raced by the grandstand for the first time.

"You've got to ride him to win," Borel said. "That's what I do best."

Borel quickly moved up at the far turn then took dead aim at the leaders along the rail. He saw the sliver of daylight as he entered the top of the stretch. He knew it was tiny. It didn't matter.

"He had enough room; he's a small horse," Borel said with a laugh.

Mine That Bird squeezed past with room to spare then roared to the finish as Borel became the 23rd jockey to win the Derby at least twice.

"I wasn't planning on winning it, but he was going to finish somewhere," Borel said. "He picked things up so easily, he was unbelievable."

The jockey isn't too bad, either.

Woolley admits he was shocked Borel would take the mount after Mine That Bird squeaked into the Derby field. Borel had planned on being in the Run for the Roses aboard Beethoven, but an injury took the horse off the Derby trail and suddenly Borel found himself wihtout a ride.

"I was very surprised he was available, maybe not for every horse, but for this horse," Woolley said. "He's a perfect, perfect fit."

Borel and Mine That Bird certainly looked like it as they zoomed past the wire, Borel thrusting his right arm into the air in triumph.

Shortly after the victory, he threw a rose in the air to honor his mother Ella, who has died since his last Derby win aboard Street Sense.

"I just wish she were here," he said.

Instead he'll celebrate with his fiancee, Lisa Funk, and his brother Cecil. Don't expect it to get too extravagant. Borel enjoyed his record-setting victory in the Oaks with a slice of pizza.

Besides, he's got to be back at the track early Sunday to work some horses. As great as becoming a part of racing royalty was, he knows he owes it to the owners and trainers of his other mounts to give their horses the same ride he put together on Mine That Bird.

They won't always provide the same magical ending. That doesn't mean he won't try.

"I want to win, that's my game," he said. "As long as I stay safe and healthy, I want to be on top."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press