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Rode to Victory
When Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, wants to send one of his thoroughbreds to race in the Kentucky Derby, he loads the horse onto a beautifully appointed Boeing 747 and has him flown to the United States in climate-controlled luxury.
Leonard Blach and Mark Allen also live in the desert—New Mexico. When they want to send one of their horses to Louisville, they put him on a one-horse trailer, hitch it to the back of a pickup truck and have their trainer drag him overland to Churchill Downs.
By now, the whole world knows which outfit had the most success last Saturday.
Churchill handicapper Mike Battaglia started Blach and Allen’s horse, Mind the Bird, at 50-1 on the morning line. After the betting opened, gamblers poured more than $43 million into the win, place and show polls, but that 50-1 hardly budged. We here at Like the Dew dismissed his chances as well.
So, how did that work out? Here are the payouts for a $2 wager:
|8||Mind That Bird||$103.20||$54.00||$25.80|
|16||Pioneer of the Nile||$8.40||$6.40|
Hey, that’s why they call it gambling, but let’s look on the positive side. Like the Dew picked Pioneer of the Nile to get a piece of the purse, and he did. The Dew also said that anyone putting money on Mind That Bird would be rich if the horse won. Well, the $2 exacta paid $2,750; the trifecta paid $41,501; and the superfecta, with the fourth place horse, #7 Papa Clem, paid $557,006. That’s not rich, exactly, but it would cover a couple of mortgage payments for most people.
Mind That Bird sold as a yearling for $9,500 and as a two-year-old was offered for $62,500. After he won a couple of stakes races in Canada, Blach and Allen bought him for $400.000. For a little over two minutes of work, he won $1.4 million Saturday. That’s getting close to rich. Unfortunately for Bird, he will have to keep running for his hay. He is a gelding and has no value in the breeding shed.
As eye-catching as Mind That Bird’s last-to-first rush up the rail in the mud was, the story of his jockey is just as amazing.
Calvin Borel was born into a dirt-poor family of Louisiana Cajuns. When he was still in his early teens, his father and mother sent him to live and work for his older brother, Cecil, who was a small-time horse trainer. He began riding in the mornings, working horses for his brother and other trainers, before getting an opportunity to compete for money in the afternoons.
Over the years, Calvin became a leading jockey in the Midwest. A journeyman, never a star, he developed such a reputation for taking the shortest way around the racetrack, his fellow jockeys and the fans began calling him “Bo-Rail.”
I first met Calvin on August 16, 2004, the date inscribed on a framed, race track photo in our office. He was sitting on the steps leading to the jockey’s quarters at Ellis Park, a small race track in Henderson, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Evansville, Indiana. It was blazing hot, and he was waiting for the next race in the coolest spot he could find.
At the time, my wife, Linda, and I owned 10 percent of a three-year-old filly that had been having trouble finding the winner’s circle. Maybe Cora would take the lead in the stretch, wait for the other horses to catch up, and then try to start running again. Time and again, it was too late to get back in the race.
We had been to Ellis a couple of weeks before only to watch Maybe Cora lose yet again. Bobby Barnett, who was training the filly, called later and said he had hired a jockey who could straighten her out. The composite photo of the race shows Maybe Cora leading by daylight in the stretch and hitting the finish line in full stride. The winner’s circle shot shows a smiling Calvin Borel leaning forward in the saddle and patting her sweaty neck.
Not only did Calvin straighten her out, she went on to win a couple of later races before we retired her.
Less than three years after riding our maiden filly to victory in a claiming race at a cheap track, Calvin was in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs aboard Street Sense. Last Friday, he won the Kentucky Oaks, the top race for three-year-old fillies, before coming back Saturday with Mind That Bird and taking his second Derby in three years.
Calvin made $738 when he rode our horse to victory. He’s made a little more in the last three years.
Kentucky Derby Replay
Derby Hat Parade
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