Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
Many of you remember Calvin Borel’s rail-skimming victory in the 2007 Kentucky Derby with Street Sense. Nicknamed Calvin “Bo-rail,” for his penchant for staying inside to save ground and coming up the inside to win many races, this writer thought that Street Sense was, arguably, the luckiest Derby winner in history. After all, he passed 17 horses on the inside (he passed two horses on the outside), a virtually impossible thing to do in the cavalry charge that is a 20-horse Derby field. But Calvin did it and, while he was commended for his ride (and his guts), he was able to do it with a horse who was always considered to be a top Derby contender.
Flash forward to 2009 (after Big Brown’s 2008 Derby win). Calvin Borel showed up to ride huge longshot Mine That Bird. No “expert” gave Calvin or the horse any shot. He was beyond a longshot, if that’s possible. By now many of you know the story of Mine That Bird ($9,500 yearling, his trainer, Bennie Woolley, Jr. – the guy on crutches – had put the horse in a horse trailer and trucked him 21 hours from New Mexico to Churchill Downs, etc.).
But he at least had a license to be in the Derby, which is limited to the top 20 money-earners who drop in the box. Mine That Bird was a standout two-year-old last year in Canada. His present owners paid $400,000 to buy him over the winter. And he had higher earnings than eight horses in the Derby, which is how you get into the Derby.
In any event, Calvin Borel became Calvin Bo-rail again and he virtually replicated his 2007 Derby-winning ride with Street Sense. Mine That Bird was last for the first three-quarters-of-a-mile in the Derby and then passed 17 horses on the inside to win for fun by almost seven lengths (he passed one horse on the outside). For Borel to come up the inside, especially through that tiny space in the stretch, took more than guts. For him to win the Derby again, this time with a 50-1 shot, will, it says here, change the way the Derby is raced in the future.
WHAT’S A TRAINER WITH A LONGSHOT IN THE DERBY TO DO?
Everybody who knows anything about handicapping is familiar with the “save all the ground you can” theory of race-riding. Clearly, Calvin Borel had mastered that long before he won his first Derby with Street Sense. But it’s one thing to do it with a favorite; it’s quite another to do it with a 50-1 shot.
So, next year, there will be 10 or so horses with no chance on the board, you know, 20-1 or higher. If you’re training one of these longshots, don’t you have a conversation with your rider? If you run into the usual problems that one runs into in a 20-horse race (you know, crowding, bumping, being knocked three, four, five wide around the turns, clipping heels , etc., etc., etc.), why not take a flyer and just tell your jock to hit the rail and hope for the best? After all, it’s now no longer the miracle trip – Calvin Borel has done it twice in the last three years. This, of course, assumes that the inside is a good place to be, not from a ground-saving point of view, but from a track bias point of view (is the inside good? Is the outside good? Do you have to be in the middle of the stretch for the best footing? etc.)
WHAT’S ANY JOCKEY IN THE DERBY TO DO?
Well, it seemed like for 130 years the inside really wasn’t the place to be in a large field like the Derby (too much traffic inside, you’d have to, by definition in a 20-horse field, check once or twice if you stay inside, if you’ve got a lot of horse you want your horse to avoid traffic problems so you move him outside for clear sailing, etc.). But now, given the two Bo-rail wins in the last three years, that theory has to, at least, be questioned.
Why wouldn’t a jockey, especially one riding a longshot, just take a flyer on the inside? If he gets shut off, as one would certainly have thought Street Sense or Mine That Bird would have been shut off, he finishes tenth but he took a flyer. If he doesn’t get shut off (again, presuming that it’s good on the inside of the track from a footing perspective), he’s got a big chance to be on the board in (or even win) the biggest race of the year.
BEWARE THE OVERREACTION
Of course, if this does come into play (and this should be a factor in next year’s Derby), you have to watch out for the overreaction. That is, maybe six or seven trainers and/or jockeys have the same thought – hit the rail, save ground and hope for the best. If that happens, then what we normally think would happen, especially in a 20-horse field, will happen – that is, there will be no room along the rail and jockeys will be checking their horses in the middle of a race, possibly losing all chance in the process. And never underestimate the guts it takes to do what Calvin Borel does on a regular basis – coming up the inside is not for the faint of heart. It’s potentially a very dangerous thing.
SO, WILL JOCKEYS CHANGE THE WAY THEY RIDE IN THE DERBY?
It says here that some will change the way they ride the Derby, influenced by Calvin Borel’s two Derby wins. We won’t know until the race is actually run (hard to believe that any trainer or jockey would admit they’re going to try it in advance). Will it work? Will it cause an accident? Will it make a Derby favorite a loser or a Derby longshot a winner? Those questions will be answered on the first Saturday in May in the next few years.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.