07/15/2011 3:11PM

Borel picks Ellis over Saratoga as his summer base


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Having won over 4,800 races, including three of the last five Kentucky Derbies, jockey Calvin Borel has the credentials to ride at the prestigious Saratoga meet that begins July 22.

He is just choosing not to be there − not on a daily basis, anyway. Rather, Borel is content to spend his summer at his home in Louisville with his wife, Lisa. He will ride most often at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., and pursue lucrative out-of-town stakes mounts when they arise.

If it bothers Borel that he isn’t at Saratoga, he isn’t showing it. As usual, he was hustling down the Churchill Downs backstretch Friday morning, working a couple of horses for trainer Ian Wilkes before the clock even struck 7:00. This came after he returned from a short working trip to Delaware Park, where he rode six races Wednesday in a trial to see if he would enjoy setting up a summer base there down the road.

“I’m thinking about it for next year,” he said.

Borel isn’t the only big name staying in this region this summer. Other accomplished jockeys riding at Ellis include veteran Jon Court; Corey Lanerie, the second-leading rider at Churchill; and Jamie Theriot, who won two Breeders’ Cup races last fall on Dubai Majesty and Chamberlain Bridge.

The reason they are staying isn’t the attractive purses awaiting them at Ellis Park, which runs only three days a week and averages approximately $130,000 a day in purses. It is more about timing and where their clients’ horses are racing.

When the Churchill Downs spring/summer meet ends, there are few good alternatives to Ellis for leading Kentucky riders. They can go to Arlington Park, as jockey Jesus Castanon recently did, but the meet is already underway, and that can prove a disadvantage. Or they can go north to Saratoga, where opportunities are scarce, with riders from New York getting the most mounts.

Although some prominent Kentucky trainers do go to Saratoga for the summer, they typically take small strings of horses. Wilkes, for example, plans to take 13 horses to Saratoga, just a fraction of his stable. That hardly makes it worthwhile for Borel to follow.

Unlike recent years, when he did go to Saratoga, Borel doesn’t have a premier horse to follow there, not the kind jockeys and agents don’t want falling out of sight. In 2009 and 2010, that horse was Rachel Alexandra for Borel. A few years earlier, it was Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

There is no such superstar for Borel and Hissam to trail this year, though he has been the regular rider of Exfactor, the juvenile who won the Grade 3 Bashford Manor and could end up racing at Saratoga this summer for Bernie Flint.

The laid-back atmosphere of Ellis Park – a small, almost fair-like track that even gets its jockeys to participate in camel and ostrich races in a yearly promotion – also suits Borel, as does Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, where he rides the first part of the year before shifting his tack to Churchill.

“That’s why we go to Oaklawn,” said Jerry Hissam, Borel’s agent for 20 years. “He puts no pressure on himself. If he’s not riding, you’d likely see him in the boat fishing with Joe Johnson,” a fellow jockey and close friend.

The blue-collar nature of the horses who run at Ellis, as well as the horsemen who compete there, also blend with Borel and Hissam’s style, self described country boys. Tim Glyshaw, for whom Borel was to ride former claimer Ready’s Rocket in the seventh race at Ellis Park on Friday afternoon, said that is what separates Borel from other riders.

“I really think Calvin will get just as excited winning a race on Ready’s Rocket as winning a stake,” he said.

Riding this summer at Ellis Park and at other tracks in the region, perhaps some at Hoosier Park when it opens in August, should also give Borel a shot to rack up some wins after what was a quiet first half of the year by his standards. Usually among the leading riders at Oaklawn and Churchill, he finished those meets in seventh- and fourth-place.

Through Thursday, his 61 wins on the year and earnings of $2.1 million were well off his pace in 2010, when his mounts earned over $7 million and he won the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver.

“Up or down, I don’t give up,” he said. “I keep my head.”

Dan Bork, racing secretary at Ellis Park, said the track is fortunate to have such a deep jockey colony, much less to have a rider as popular as Borel.

“I got asked by someone, ‘Are you guys gonna have a Calvin Borel day?’ ” he said. “I said, ‘Every day here is Calvin Borel day.' ”