05/16/2007 11:00PM

Looking for the inside scoop


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Bo-rail, Bo-rail, Bo-rail. It's this year's Triple Crown mantra. Bo-rail, Bo-rail, Bo-rail. Got so bad that President Bush pronounced the man's name that way at the White House, not long after he winked at the queen. Bush, not Borel. Calvin's got manners.

Bo-rail, Bo-rail, Bo-rail. Before the Derby, fellow Cajun Robby Albarado all but dared Boo-Boo Borel to try that inside stuff with Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby. Then darned if he didn't, and made it look like a breeze.

"All week long we were saying he's not gonna get through those 20 horses," said Albarado, who finished third on Curlin and will try again on Saturday in the 132nd Preakness Stakes. "No way. Then sure enough he did, just like driving a car. Look at that view of the race from up top - he looks like he's on PlayStation. But you can do that, when you got a horse with that turn of foot. I picked him up moving at the three-eighths pole and all I could think was 'Wow!' "

The Preakness debate, if you want to call it that, seems to reduce Street Sense to a one-trick pony, dangling the idea that because the turns at Pimlico are sharper, Borel and his colt will whip around there Saturday like a tin bunny unless somebody gets in their way.

Nonsense. Like most smart riders with a ton of horse, Borel will take what's given him, and more often than not manufacture his own good fortune. A closer, less hysterical look at the Derby reveals that Borel and Street Sense were not lucky in Louisville - unless by lucky it is meant that nothing fell in front of them. They were merely outrunning everything around them when they had to.

True, Borel was never faced with one of those agonizing four-horse walls moving just fast enough in front of him to be a nuisance. But jocks like Calvin, when empowered by the right animal, have what such great guards as Bird, Magic, Stockton, and Nash bring to basketball. They see events developing before they actually happen, and take advantage accordingly. It's called court sense.

"For some jocks, being on the inside means nobody between you and the rail," said Steve Asmussen, Curlin's trainer. "They could be in the three-path and think they're 'inside.' Not Calvin. For him, if you're inside, you're getting paint on your boot."

In most cases, when the serious running starts, the rail is the path of retreat. Pacesetters fall back and closers fan wide. Thus it has ever been, and that is why it is so refreshing to watch a rider like Borel at work, occasionally taking the road less traveled. He is not, however, the only practitioner.

Cue up the 1983 Belmont Stakes, for instance, and watch Laffit Pincay and Caveat bounce off the wood turning for home, then burst through and win, in spite of everything Angel Cordero could do to close the door. Or take a look at the 1986 Arlington Million, and gasp at the way Fernando Toro took Estrapade from nowhere in particular to long gone in front, all in the blink of a sixteenth of a mile down the backstretch while clinging to the rail.

In a tightly packed, evenly matched field traveling at a moderate pace, the rail is probably not the place to be, unless it's right behind a leader wearing an outside extension blinker. But in Breeders' Cup 2-year-old races and Triple Crown events, the quality of the contestants is all over the map. Chances are, they will be strung out at some point, concerned more with holding their place in line as exhaustion looms than with obstructing the path of an onrushing favorite.

The rail also sends certain signals to a racehorse, like a red cape to a bull. Thoroughbreds, being creatures of stubborn habit, learn in the morning to gallop with reserve in the middle of the track. When they are sent to the rail, they get to go fast. Translated into a race, the rail means go, which is not always a good thing. "I took him off the rail to get him to relax" goes the thinking, and usually it works. Unfortunately, once the rail is abandoned, it is not that easy to retrieve.

"In the Derby, because the field is so big, most riders, they ask their horses for a little early speed to get position," said Edgar Prado, who was aboard 18th-place Scat Daddy at Churchill Downs and will ride longshot C P West in the Preakness.

"Not Calvin," Prado went on. "Right at the start, he took ahold and dropped to the rail. He knew what he had. That's confidence. Last year, with Barbaro, I knew at the half-mile pole he wasn't gonna get beat. Calvin, he knew from the beginning. When he went by me so fast, I was just trying to stay out of his way."

Listen to Edgar. That's good advice. With hotshots like Hard Spun, Xchanger, and Flying First Class in the mix, the Preakness should feel a lot like the Derby for Street Sense. If that's the case, it might be best to just stay out of his way.