01/20/2016 4:26PM

Hovdey: Borell getting ready for her next big horse


Maria Borell was in the tunnel getting ready to saddle her first horse at Gulfstream Park last Sunday when the trainer in the next stall caught her eye and came smiling forward.

“We need to get a picture,” he said, handing his smartphone to an innocent bystander. “Two Breeders’ Cup winners. That’s us.”

Neither Enebish Ganbat nor Maria Borell fit any preconceived notion of a Breeders’ Cup trainer. He is a native of Mongolia and became the first Asian to train a championship-day winner when Mongolian Saturday took the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on Oct. 31. She is a former exercise rider and was a training unknown who produced Runhappy to cap a Cinderella season in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint later the same day.

The next day was decidedly different. While Ganbat basked in the praise of his patron, Ganbaatar Dagvadorj, and the adoration of his horse-crazy nation, Borell was relieved of her position as Runhappy’s trainer by owner James McIngvale. It was the firing heard ’round the racing world.

Readers just now crawling out from under a rock can relive the events and subsequent legal squabbles that turned a feel-good story into a tabloid nightmare. Have fun. In the meantime, Borell was going back to work at the only job she’s every really wanted, and was more than happy to be saddling her first horse for Drawing Away Stable of New York and her first horse since winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

The fact that it was taking place in the same building where the night before Runhappy was honored as champion male sprinter of 2015 was an irony best left lying in the middle of the room, to be swept up later. Borell said she did not watch the show, which was streamed live by various outlets. But when McIngvale made a point of not mentioning Borell in his acceptance speech, it did not take long for social media to light up with texts, tweets, and posts of protest and indignation. It’s a jungle out there.

Borell answered the only way she could, by sending out Doctor J Dub, a 6-year-old gelding, to outrun his odds and finish second in the $44,000 optional claimer. Her reboot had begun.

“I am glad the Eclipse Awards are over,” Borell said later at the barn while awaiting Doctor J Dub’s return. “It’s hard to heal when it’s thrown in your face like that. I was really attached to that horse. It was more about losing him as an individual than it was about the opportunities he gave me. The hardest part is never seeing him again.

“But I want him to run well,” Borell added. “I want him to have a lot of success. I want to someday be training Runhappy babies.”

For now, Borell does most of her shopping with racing manager Sandy Levine of Drawing Away. They got Doctor J Dub for $16,000 on Jan. 1 but since then have had no luck at the claiming box.

“We’ve lost, like, seven shakes,” Borell said, clearly frustrated. “You’d think we’d at least get a little bit lucky.”

Borell currently has three stalls at a training center adjacent to Gulfstream Park West (née Calder Race Course), with a promise of more stalls when she and her owners start winning those shakes.

“I really like training over that surface because it’s deeper,” Borell said. “As long as a horse doesn’t have a suspensory problem, I think it gets horses really fit to come over here to run on a faster track.”

As she spoke, Borell was at a stall rubbing the hind end of a demanding chestnut who had backed up to the bars of the metal door. Jaiden’s Best, one of two she trains for the Pegasis Investment Group, was running in the 10th race. He was also very spoiled.

“I think the happier they are, the better they perform,” Borell said. “They get more relaxed. Anyway, that’s my belief. I guess it’s from growing up with them. They all have different personalities, they’ll beg for treats, and they’ll nicker when you come into the barn. People are missing something if they don’t get to know each horse as an individual.”

Runhappy came to Borell last year after recovering from a minor injury and with only an impressive maiden win to his credit. He went on to win all five of his races for Borell, including stakes at Saratoga and Keeneland, before taking the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Borell is navigating different waters now, and she is grateful for the chance. She engendered considerable sympathy when she was fired by McIngvale. But then, when she sued the owner for unpaid purses, she was hit by a predictable backlash that tried to paint her as the ungrateful girl with the horse tattoo who had been plucked from complete obscurity. The challenge has been shedding the labels.

“It sure didn’t help,” she conceded. “I know I’m not that proven yet, even after Runhappy. I’m working with people now who don’t really care about what they saw in the media.”

Borell celebrated her 33rd birthday on Wednesday, but she unwrapped her best present last Sunday, a little while after Doctor J Dub got the year rolling, when Gulfstream Park general manager P.J. Campo presented Borell with her trainer’s trophy on behalf of the Breeders’ Cup. Good thing, too. At that point, it was all beginning to seem like a dream.

“I admit I started crying,” Borell said. “The trophy means it actually happened.”

Shari Hazlett More than 1 year ago
Good luck Maria. Wishing you all the best. I know you were put in a horrible situation and I think you are showing your class and talent. I think you will make it. I do not root for a horse owned by Run Happy's connections except for him. The owner does this way too much so just know there are tons of us supporting you and knowing you can do it.
PTWoodman More than 1 year ago
Best (Better) of Luck, Maria. Good things come to those with patience & talent.
Greg Jones More than 1 year ago
Maria Borell: “For me, drug free racing is a simple and logical paradigm, why would we put something into a racehorse's body that we would not put into our own bodies?” Both her starters ran on Lasix this year, while Runhappy has never run with Lasix.
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
This fantasy that not racing on any drugs will help racing is comical at best.....
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
Glad you think so Vince. Because if done appropriately with the assistance of a great vet it can be done. But no owner, trainer, or vet with risk the safety of the horse. But it' can be done. Don't be so pesimestic.
mike More than 1 year ago
Michele,the individual,Vince is a killjoy-always posting alot of garbage.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Not really - the ROW (Rest of the World) doesn't and our product is slowly diminished by the inability to breed non-bleeders.
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
Gaye I respect your opinion and in many ways it's accurate. It's up to us to change our industry. The world does not breed horses that are on lasix. This is more a issue here in the US. Keep in mind that in most countries lasix is not utilized. Also bare in mind there are some horses that do require lasix. My personal opinion is to do what the horse needs not what the trainer wants. Hopefully you understand what I'm saying. But I completely respect your opinion and in so many ways you are correct.
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
Good observation, Greg. Borell is still a believer in no Lasix, but now as a trainer for claiming clients acquiring horses who have been on Lasix, she must be concerned with taking horses off Lasix too quickly. There's a column in that, I think.
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
Greg, Jay is exactly correct. sfter looking at each horse it was in the best interest of each horse after consulting with the vet not to take them off lasix yet. That's not to say it will not ever happen. Each horses situation is evaluated and Maria does what is in the best interest of the horse based on what the vet suggests for that individual horse. Stay tuned Greg. I know you've had your doubts in the past. But she's not what you've read about her and it's not even close. The best is yet to come. But the horses always come first with Maria ALWAYS.
Bruce Battaglia More than 1 year ago
I wish you all the luck in the world. You won those races and developed a Champion..He can never take that away from you..Just remember that the idiot that dresses up like a sofa also fired Mr. Bob Baffert the best trainer in America. Best wishes..
Felton Suthon More than 1 year ago
Follow the dream, Maria! I'd love to see that photo of Enebish and Maria - two unlikely winners who got the job done.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
I wonder if Jay would be spending so much ink on her if she was not cute. let's face it until she trains a few other horses that win she's proven nothing . Runhappy is a freak that is still winning even for a complete unknown .so he won for his previous trainer then continued winning for Maria Borell and now is winning for the old trainer again.truth is neither ms Borell or the Manager/ trainer that fired her have proven they can train yet. Taking pictures of yourself lying on the horse in the stable is cute but it does not a trainer make. Let's see her have another horse win besides Runhappy .before him she trained for two years without much success. And suing your employer just because he fired you is not going to help drum up business.
Leah Burke More than 1 year ago
Ray, I think it's really interesting you seem to discount the win with the horse before Runhappy or all the other times Maria hit the board. Any trainer will tell you, you're only as good as the horses you train. Did you happen to do any research on the horses Maria even had before running off at the mouth? Horses given to her that were DNFs, etc. Did you see Sunday where a horse she claimed for 16k ran 2nd in Allowance Optional? Also, you may want to get your story a little straight. Mcingvale is being sued for not paying her commission for her wins which is what every trainer gets in the industry. Since you seem to have so much time on your hands , posting on articles you uneducated opinion, take some time and do your research!
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
First of all she was a private trainer. That means she had no expenses unlike trainers on a day rate and 10% commission. So while most owners would under those circumstances give her 10% of the purse they are not under any obligation to do so. They chose to give her a bonus instead .she took the check .it only became an issue when she was fired. She is also suing for breeding rights to the horse. Once again the owner decides if he will give seasons to a trainer or not. So before you accuse others of not knowing the facts .make sure you do some research. As for the horse makes the trainer that's true in part but it does not change the fact that other than Runhappy she has not had any success .so until that changes I'm not ready to call her a good trainer. Even though she might be .
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
Can you prove that? Nope. Call Indiana ask them. Funny thing is they paid her right out of the purse monies.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
No - she asked about it before she was fired, Ray. It is amazing how people can "defend" stingy, nasty old money-bags and his treatment of a deserving ( she won; fact ) young woman
Chuck Seeger More than 1 year ago
If you had racehorses and was looking for a trainer, would you hire her? If not, why?
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Probably not . First of all if I did I would have her sign a disclaimer that she understood that I would not be giving her any breeding rights to any horse she trained for me. I would give her 10% of the purses. But who wants to hire a unknown who might sue if you decide to part ways. Had she not sued and gone about this in such a public way she would have moved on with a reasonable starting resume .every time Runhappy won she would be remembered and the press would make sure of that. But the way it turned the other side countered with negative comments that put a question on wether she was competent or not.
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
So you know what she is asking for is customery? And I'd give her my whole barn. I've spent in her in training barn. I know her talent. I know individual attention her horses receive. Apparently you don't. If you did you'd send her your horses too. Maria is not asking for a hand out. She's asking for what she earned. Her income her purse moneies. Any trainer is due that. She trained Runhappy to his wins and accomplishments. She deserves to be compensated. Oh by the way she was compensated for his win in Indiana because the track takes out the purse money automatically. If you worked hard and trained a horse to stakes wins and a BC win you'd like your earning as well.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
if you are right and since you are close to the situation you probably are. then she will get other horses and be fine. and if you are right legally she will win her case and get the money. my objection to the article is not personal. i just don't like to see the owner of the horse be tarred and feathered for changing is mind about who trains his horse. and what business model he chooses. thats all i wish MARIA all the best.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
regards of the welfare of the horse? The whole bro-ha-ha started when Wohlers insisted on jogging the poor horse the morning after his Grade 1 BCSprint win. I have friends at Santa Anita who saw how bad Wohlers is: the poor animal NEVER gets a down moment. His acting up on the track, that Wohlers said was "stud dish", was dissatisfaction! Yes, we SHOULD be concerned when a retail mattress inventory bean counter tries to train a champion - it is BEYOND ridiculous!
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
She's not suing because he fired her. She's firing her because he did not pay her her just due. And frankly you do not know one face about the entire situations therefore I'd suggest you may keep your personal opinion to yourself. Let's see you take a lame Runhappy and make him a winning Grade one winning Breeders Cup Champion. Oh wait did I just say that out loud? Yep I sure did because incase you didn't know that's exactly what she did.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
what part of private trainer do you not get.
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
What part of prove it do you not get? You're not Mack nor Maria.
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
It will come out in court she clearly received her commission elsewhere. Clearly again you do not understand the law. You were and are not privy to certain to private information and evidence that is not disclosed on this thread. Agsin wait for all the evidence.
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
Sorry autocorrect is not so correct!!
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Get back on your meds Ray.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Did i say anything crazy or that is not factual ?. a private trainer who gets all her stable bills taken care of is not the same as a private trainer who works on a day rate and commissions. that's just a fact. from what I've read she received a bonus check after each win and cashed it. she could have said right after the first one. hey i don't want this bonus im entitled to 10% of the purse. she apparently did not. so she accepted the deal. whether the owner should just give her 10% of the purse for the big win as the right thing to do .is debatable i would give the 10% and the bonus check .but legally i dont think he has to .given the fact that she's a PRIVATE TRAINER.
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
You read she's a private trainer? Therefore you find that factual? Were you privy to something Maria herself was not privy too? Because you certainly are not stating any facts she's aware of.. Just saying.
JayHovdey More than 1 year ago
Ray -- With a closer read of the column I think you will note this from Borell: “I know I’m not that proven yet, even after Runhappy." Certainly, though, after what she accomplished with her one handling of a good horse, she deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
i agree that she certainly did well wit this horse and i am giving her the benefit of the doubt. i hope she does succeed .i just point out that RUNHAPPY is a freak and until she trains another good horse the jury is still out. as for the other issue from what I've read she was getting a weekly salary as a private trainer. so its murky as to exactly her situation is on receiving commissions. on top of salary and expenses and bonuses. just think this could have been handled differently all round and the owners should not be vilified.
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
You really think she is suing him for firing her? Seriously? Please tell me you're not that silly? Please. Or I'm going to pee my pants. Have you been living in a closet? Are you for real?
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
so as a private trainer who got all her bills paid by the guy who fired her and gave he bonus checks. what exactly is she suing for ?..
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
Ray can you prove that? No you can't. Therefore in court the evidence will be examined by the appropriate people. Not you. If the public were to decide then people like you.would be making decisions based off opinions not facts. That being said my only suggestion would be to wait for the outcome. Irregardless it does not change the fact that she accomplished with that horse what she did.
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
FYI Ray, Mack did not fire Maria. Laura Woehler, Macks sister in law did. That's how up on the facts you are. She's suing because she wants what is due to her. What's customery. And if you were well versed in contract law you'd know exactly what I am referring too. But because you are not you will remain clueless until the case goes to court. Mack and his attorney however I am sure are well aware. As I said you claim to know facts yet you don't even know who fired Maria. Laura Wohloer is employed by Mack. Mack, Runhappys owner did not fire her. Mr know it all but you really know nothing at all.
Michele Patarini More than 1 year ago
Mario Vargas More than 1 year ago
I wish I had funding in order to send her an equine athlete or two. Maria will soon been joining the pantheon of training greats and I firmly believe that she will get business soon from well funded clientele. I wish Maria the best from a racing fan standpoint. Your career is just blossoming! Good luck!
Carolyn Barg More than 1 year ago
Maria: You will triumph over all the nonsense. I have so much faith in you.
Moe More than 1 year ago
You'll bounce right back Maria. I have faith in you and your abilities and others see it tooo.
Janet Borell More than 1 year ago
Thanks for Great article on Runhappy, and Maria Borell.