06/05/2009 11:00PM

For Borel, no win and no regrets


ELMONT, N.Y. - In a town known for its sports guarantees, Calvin Borel proved to be more Patrick Ewing than Joe Namath or Mark Messier.

Borel spent all week guaranteeing that Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird would win Saturday's Belmont Stakes, but in the end, the duo could do no better than a third-place finish, about three lengths behind Summer Bird. Ewing, a former center for the New York Knicks, often guaranteed victories in the playoffs but never delivered. Namath guaranteed the New York Jets would win Super Bowl III and they did. Messier guaranteed the New York Rangers would win the sixth game of the Eastern Conference finals in 1994 and they did, primarily because he scored a hat trick in that game.

Borel was going for a hat trick of his own, attempting to become the first jockey to win the Triple Crown on two different horses. He won the Derby on Mine That Bird and the Preakness on the filly Rachel Alexandra, who beat Mine That Bird.

Borel admitted he may have moved Mine That Bird "a tad" prematurely in Belmont, but he said he had no regrets about guaranteeing the victory.

"I thought I was on the best horse coming in; I was on the best horse," Borel said. "I feel for my animals when I ride them; I know he was a good colt. If you're not going to come here and ride with confidence, you might as well not come. When I come to ride races like this, I come with confidence."

Borel hadn't ridden a dirt race at Belmont Park since 2001 and he had never before ridden the Belmont Stakes, at 1 1/2 miles the longest of the three Triple Crown races. He had not ridden a horse since last Sunday at Churchill Downs. While Borel had Mine That Bird in his customary last-place position entering the first turn, Borel and Mine That Bird began moving toward horses with seven furlongs remaining in the race.

Watching the race on a flat-screen television in the tunnel between the paddock and the track, Borel's agent, Jerry Hissam, said, "Easy son, easy son, where you going?"

Mine That Bird moved into fourth position at the three-eighths pole and made the lead while three wide at the quarter pole. In the stretch, Borel hit Mine That Bird left-handed as he tried to get past Charitable Man and Dunkirk.

Mine That Bird drifted outward and couldn't keep up with Summer Bird, who rallied outside of Mine That Bird in the final 50 yards. Dunkirk, who set the pace while racing along the rail, held off Mine That Bird by a neck for second.

"He kind of took me up there a little earlier than I wanted," Borel said. "I knew the fence wasn't good - it's kind of deep down there - and when I eased him out he took me to them a little earlier than I wanted so I didn't want to take nothing out of him. I let him go on. I didn't take the lead too early, I don't think, because the horses in front kind of stopped to a walk."

Watching the race live, Chip Woolley, the trainer of Mine That Bird, thought Borel might have moved too soon.

"It's hard to say that when you haven't seen the replay," Woolley said. "Calvin had said the horse was kind of fresh down the backside; that's something he hadn't been doing in the past. I was a little concerned with the horse when we went to the holding barn today. He was amped up a little more than he had been in his previous races. Maybe I had him a hair too fresh."

Borel said that at the quarter pole "I still thought I was home free." Borel said he told his fiancee, Lisa Funk, earlier in the week that he thought a plodder would end up winning the race and pegged Summer Bird, sixth in the Derby, as his main competition.

"That other horse, he got hung so wide in the Derby," Borel said, referring to Summer Bird "You can't take any credit away from my little horse. He tried, he run his heart out. I wouldn't give him up for anything in the world."

Borel also said he wouldn't have given up the five-week ride he was on. In addition to winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown, Borel became a celebrity of sorts, doing spots on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with David Letterman.

"It's been a good road," Borel said. "I won the first two legs; I wouldn't change it for anything in the world."