The Kentucky Derby is an evolving, ever-changing annual roller coaster ride from the morning after to the eve of the next edition.
One element, however, remains constant. Fans want to know first and foremost: Which horse will Calvin Borel be riding?
The three time Derby-winning jockey is never far from the minds of railbirds and handicappers when it comes to the first Saturday in May. Raise your hand if you, too, place that saver bet on his Derby contender, no matter the odds or the appeal.
This year, Borel is coming into his prime season on an upswing. He endured an agonizing winter, suffering a fractured wrist while sitting on 4,999 career wins. At the same time, his close friend and agent, Jerry Hissam, was in the hospital.
Once Borel’s injury healed, he began weaving his way up the Oaklawn rail to the winner’s circle once again. He reached elusive win No. 5,000 on March 7 and dedicated it to Hissam, who continues to recuperate. He found his Kentucky Oaks filly in sprightly Rose to Gold, who upset favorite Flashy Gray in the Honeybee Stakes on March 9.
The search is now underway for a Derby counterpart; perhaps an under-the-radar runner who hasn’t landed on mainstream Derby lists.
Borel travels to New Orleans Saturday to ride two for trainer Dallas Stewart, including enigmatic long shot Golden Soul in the Grade 2, $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby.
Golden Soul is a closer, a colt who should like longer races and a good fit for Borel. The chestnut appeared without a chance in his debut at Churchill Downs in November when he and Borel started last in a field of 10. They rallied to finish second in the one-mile journey, losing by a nose to Sayler’s Creek.
After the Louisiana Derby, it’s on to New York, where Borel is slated to ride Always in a Tiz in the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 6. The son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic champ Tiznow, trained by Dominick Schettino, wasn’t a fan of the sloppy track in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park and finished fifth. He showed promise prior to that with a fast-closing third in the Smarty Jones, and he was second to undefeated Derby hopeful Vyjack in the Traskwood Stakes.
“He knows how to win the big races and he knows how to win the Derby.” Schettino said of Borel in a New York Racing Association interview.
A win in either test is worth 100 points in the new Kentucky Derby point system, assuring a spot in the gate. A second place finish, worth 40 points, could also solidify a place in the lineup.
No matter who takes him there, by nature of the Kentucky Derby, Borel will be one to watch.