05/04/2010 6:02PM

Go See Cal


So what did we learn from the 136th Kentucky Derby, other than the fact it tends to rain in the Midwest in spring?

--Forget about a battery. Calvin Borel needs to be shaken down for the presence of a cloaking device. Never has one man gotten through inside on so many so often in front of so many stunned witnesses. HRTV commentator Laffit Pincay III, whose dad knew his way around out there, had the best line in the Derby's aftermath, when he wondered aloud if Calvin would be able to get away with such a blatantly joyous disregard of the established rules of the road if Angel Cordero and Manny Ycaza were still roaming the land. John Longden once said that as a young jock he tried to get through inside a grizzled vet and woke up a week later in the hospital. But the Bob Gibsons of the saddle are long gone, and Calvin's not. What Borel gets away with is clearly a testimony to his daring calculations that there's no one out there who plays real hardball anymore. It also helps to be on a horse like Super Saver who wants to go along for the ride.

Calvin Borel In addition, please note that Borel seems to understand the nature of farming implements better than most. The "dead rail" caused by the weight of a tractor pulling floats over a sloppy track like Churchill's last Saturday is a reality. Except that the path of the tractor wheel churning the ground is not hard upon the rail, but a horse lane out from the rail, leaving a packed and pristine Calvin-friendly route that he accepts with gratitude.

--Before giving Borel a leg up on Super Saver, Todd Pletcher had employed the following jockeys in his fruitless pursuit of the Kentucky Derby: Velazquez (6 times), Dominguez (3), Douglas (2), Prado (2), Chavez (2), Valenzuela (2), and once each DiCarlo, Perret, Sellers, Guidry, Santos, Gomez and Jara. On Saturday, Pletcher also used Maragh, Castellano and Velazquez again, since he couldn't put Borel on them all. Todd's looking into that.

--A field of 20 is just about right. Thank goodness, though, Clay Puett didn't invent the 24-stall gate, because you know if he did the boys at Churchill Downs would be plugging every available hole. Putting a ceiling on a field size for a race hyped to the heavens like the Derby is like building more closets...you're always going to fill them up. By now, goes the thinking, it's downright un-American for there to be anything less than 30 people seriously wanting to run a horse in the race. I do not, therefore, want to hear about rotten trips or unlucky draws. That is the nature of the beast, and everyone knows it when they sign up for ride. Sure, I can't help wondering what would have happened if Lookin at Lucky hadn't been battered out of the gate, and if Garrett Gomez on Lucky could have camped on Calvin's heels until the real running began. It might have been a horse race. But in truth, I listen to post-race Derby excuses with the same deaf ear that tunes out political discourse and the complaints of 5-year-old boys.

--Stuck in front of a television for the Derby, I will tolerate the fashion stuff and the other fluff that fills the hours of programming in order to get to the walkover, the paddock, the post parade and the race. But I will not, under any circumstances, forgive a Churchill Downs cooking segment with Al Roker drooling over mussels in some kind of mystery broth. Where'd they get them...Bullock Pen Lake? The Ohio? The least they could have done was whipped up some hot browns.

--Attempts to pry a Nick Zito-esque reaction from Pletcher in the afterglow of his first Derby victory were unsuccessful, but I could have told them. I have used some of my best Woody Stephens, old-timey, knee-slapping material on the guy and he is an absolute rock of emotional control. He smiled, a lot. What do you people want? The trophy on his head? A little Don Draper cool in the face of the Derby's embarrassing excess was a welcome sight. Anyway, when he got back home I'm sure he popped in his "Best of Benny Hill" DVD and rolled around on the carpet with his boys.

--Finally, from the Dept. of Strange Karma, there are actually races taking place at other racetracks on Derby Day. Like, for instance, the third last Saturday at Pimlico. One year after 2009 Derby favorite I Want Revenge was scratched the morning of the race with a bad ankle, his younger half brother, Dontsellmetofelons, broke his maiden for a $28,000 pot going a mile and one-sixteenth on the main track in Baltimore. This was not a stepping stone to the Preakness. Far from it. But for owner David Lanzmann, who bred both brothers and raced I Want Revenge in partnership with IEAH Stables, it was still pretty sweet. "He could have won on April 30 or May 2, and that would have been great," Lanzmann said. "But to do it on Derby day. How cool is that?"