Jockey Jumps Ship

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

The second leg of thoroughbred racing's fabled Triple Crown goes off at Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore this Saturday and the Preakness is buzzing with jockey drama this week. The stirring 50-to-1 odds winner of the Kentucky Derby the first weekend of May, Mine That Bird, was deftly commandeered by jockey Calvin Borel. It sometimes happens, when a crowd of horses comes shoulder to shoulder to the wire and one shows the heart to find that fifth gear and nose out the rest, that we give all the credit to the horse. And make no mistake, the little gelding Mine That Bird is a special race horse. But reviewing the Derby from start to finish convinces you that Borel and his colt were equally talented that day. The overhead photo at the first turn is astonishing. The pack is rounding the curve together, heading for the backstretch. One horse lags far, far behind, almost as if he just didn't belong in the world's most famous race. He has barely edged into the curve when the others are lengthening their strides for the straightaway. That lagging solo colt? Mine That Bird. By the next curve, Borel seemed to make his own body shrink to a tiny shadow and tucked his small horse just inches from the rail. The two of them, so delicately that they barely seemed to leave hoofprints in the dirt, glided with stealth and silence past one, then the next, then a couple more. Then half way down the final stretch they were even with the leader and Mine That Bird gleefully let loose to cross the wire 6 1/2 lengths ahead of all the rest.

The fairy tale of the Triple Crown has a story line that bonds the Derby horse and rider together like two protagonists of a romance novel. Together they have the potential to make magic. At Pimlico. And then at New York's Belmont Stakes for the third leg of the elusive Crown. This is where the plot thickens. The day before Mine That Bird took the roses at Churchill Downs, another impressive horse, filly Rachel Alexandra, handily won the Kentucky Oaks in similar dominant fashion. And now Calvin Borel has announced he will abandon his co-star Mine That Bird and instead team with the filly for the Preakness. What? There are jockeys all over the country dying to get their hands on Mine That Bird's reigns this Saturday. Just ask Casey Lambert. He's the jockey who guided Mine That Bird in his 2-year-old development races and was sickened to be passed up for the Derby run. Or you could go up to Canada where Chantal Sutherland will tell you that she was shocked speechless in watching the Derby because she was called to ride Mine That Bird for the big race but then was never contacted again, nor had her calls returned.

Now that Borel has ditched Mine That Bird, what's happened to the jockey who won aboard Rachel Alexandra in that impressive Oaks victory? Well, that jockey was none other than…Calvin Borel. He says the filly is the best horse he has ever ridden. In rebuttal, the handlers of Mine That Bird have secured jockey Mike Smith who won the Derby not long ago on Giacomo, who performed a wild come from way behind surge that has been compared to Mine That Bird's unlikely 50-to-1 longshot Derby coup.

Mine That Bird's owners threatened to travel with another entry to Pimlico, with the express intent of keeping Rachel Alexandra out of the limited 14-horse Preakness field. But fair play has prevailed. A space at the starting gate has been reserved for the fabulous filly and there is a heated charge crackling around the stables at Pimlico as both horses and jockeys get ready to play their leading roles on Saturday.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

Banner image: Calvin Borel, atop Mine That Bird, rounds turn one in last place during the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2009 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images



Diana Nyad