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Who's Borel riding now?
The historic victory by the filly Rachel Alexandra over Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico means that there will be no Triple Crown by a horse this year, but there are two scenarios pertaining to the June 6 Belmont Stakes that could put Calvin Borel in position to make a little history of his own, because no jockey has ever swept the Triple Crown series in the same calendar year on two different horses.
Borel won the Derby on Mine That Bird, then opted to ride Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. If Rachel Alexandra comes back in the Belmont, Borel would stick with her, his agent, Jerry Hissam, said Monday.
But there's a second way in which Borel could attempt that unprecedented sweep. He could end up back on Mine That Bird, who is a definite starter in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.
Rachel Alexandra, who returned to Churchill Downs on Sunday, is only possible for the Belmont. Rachel Alexandra's trainer, Steve Asmussen, said he would consult with majority owner Jess Jackson before deciding on a Belmont start. But Asmussen allowed that he did not look at the Belmont with the same "urgency" as he did the Preakness for Rachel Alexandra.
"Immediately, right now it doesn't feel the same as it did before," Asmussen said.
And Jackson stopped well short of committing to the Belmont.
"She may be coming out more tired than I know," Jackson said after the race.
If Rachel Alexandra does not run, that could put Borel back on Mine That Bird. Mike Smith, who rode Mine That Bird to a second-place finish in the Preakness, will not ride him in the Belmont because of a prior commitment to ride Madeo for his main clients - trainer John Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss - in the Grade 1 Whittingham Stakes at Hollywood Park the same day, Smith's agent, Brad Pegram, said Monday.
"We made this commitment to Madeo before the Preakness, before the filly was sold and Calvin took off Mine That Bird to ride the filly and we got a chance to ride Mine That Bird in the Preakness," Pegram said.
Chip Woolley, Mine That Bird's trainer, said he would "have to see" if Borel would regain the mount. But Hissam would welcome the opportunity.
"If Woolley wants me, I would like to ride Mine That Bird if the filly doesn't run," Hissam said. "But I don't know how the dominoes will fall."
Borel has never ridden in the Belmont Stakes.
Considering the unsatisfying nature of the Derby, which was won by an overlooked 50-1 shot on an off track, this year's Triple Crown has turned out to be great theater. The Preakness was one for the ages. Rachel Alexandra, who earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 108, became the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years. And Mine That Bird, a distant third choice in the Preakness despite his powerful Derby victory, had to win over any doubters with another terrific effort.
Mine That Bird headed back to Churchill Downs on Monday, with Woolley driving the truck that pulled the horse's van. Woolley is eager to run in the Belmont.
"I don't know if it's as much the distance as it is the track," Woolley said at Pimlico on Sunday morning. "It has wider, sweeping turns. This track, with his running style, it doesn't set up as well for him. Once he got into the stretch and got clear he came running. But on the turn, horses stack up."
Woolley said Mine That Bird's legs were "clean as a whistle" despite him having to check sharply to avoid traffic at the quarter pole.
"If he'd have had a little cleaner run, he might have had a chance of beating her," Woolley said. "But with a horse who comes from last, there's always a concern you're going to hit traffic. And we can't change his running style, because then he won't finish."
Woolley said he likely would leave Churchill Downs for Belmont Park on June 1 or 2. He said he was leaning toward vanning to New York, but said there was a chance he could fly "because it's a little longer trip."
Rachel Alexandra came out of the Preakness well, according to Asmussen, who said he thought her performance was sensational.
"They didn't exactly hand it to her," Asmussen said. "She had to earn it. It was a hot pace, and everything near her early was not around at the end."
Asmussen said Rachel Alexandra would walk for several days before going back to the track at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. She is scheduled to have a workout the early part of next week, Asmussen said.
Rachel Alexandra is now the clear front-runner for Horse of the Year, a title Asmussen is quite familiar with, having trained Curlin to consecutive titles in 2007-2008.
"That thought crosses my mind," Asmussen said. "I like the sound of 'front-runner for Horse of the Year.' "
Of the other Preakness runners, only Flying Private, who finished fourth, is certain to come back in the Belmont. His D. Wayne Lukas-trained stablemate Luv Gov is possible.
Among those getting off the Triple Crown trail is Pioneerof the Nile, who was second in the Derby but 11th of 13 in the Preakness. He continued a curiously inglorious streak for Derby runners-up, who have won just two of the last 49 Preaknesses.
The Belmont field is expected to include Chocolate Candy, Dunkirk, Mr. Hot Stuff, and Summer Bird - all of whom ran in the Derby and skipped the Preakness - as well as Triple Crown newcomers Charitable Man and Miner's Escape
On Monday, Chocolate Candy and Dunkirk put in workouts moments apart over Belmont Park's main track.
Chocolate Candy, with Garrett Gomez up, worked six furlongs in 1:13.47, according to Daily Racing Form, and galloped out seven furlongs in 1:27.20. It was his second work since shipping to Belmont shortly after his fifth-place finish in the Derby. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said Gomez told him he liked the breeze, but Gomez has yet to commit to riding him in the race.
"He probably has his choice of several horses, so we hope that he chooses ours," Hollendorfer said. "He's our first choice."
One of those horses Gomez is in the running to ride is Dunkirk, whom Gomez has ridden twice but gave up in favor of Pioneerof the Nile in the Derby. Dunkirk, who finished 11th in the Derby under Edgar Prado, worked four furlongs Monday in 47.37 seconds. It was Dunkirk's first work since the Derby, in which he sustained a grabbed quarter and other superficial cuts after stumbling at the start.
"If everything continues to go well we're going to plan on running in the Belmont," said Dunkirk's trainer, Todd Pletcher.
Summer Bird, who finished sixth in the Derby, was expected to arrive at Belmont Park on Tuesday after a lengthy van ride from Louisiana Downs.
Miner's Escape, winner of the Federico Tesio, is also on the grounds for trainer Nick Zito.
- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee