Another Triple Crown season has come and gone, and as usual it did not disappoint. Many of the happenings would have been impossible to predict, however, such as:
• A 50-1 shot winning the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). It looked like Quality Road, The Pamplemousse, and I Want Revenge would all bring solid credentials to Churchill Downs for the Derby, but they fell by the wayside. At the end of the day, a new star was born when Mine That Bird came through on the rail under the master of such rides, Calvin “Bo-Rail” Borel, to wear the roses.
• The trainer of the Derby winner, Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr., winning the race with his first-ever starter in a graded stakes race. Woolley proved there are good horsemen at every track in the country, just waiting to get their hands on a good horse. Two things stand out about Woolley: 1) He was incredibly accommodating to the media and fans, doing hundreds of interviews and signing hundreds of autographs. This from a guy surely worn out from hobbling around on crutches since breaking his leg in a motorcycle accident. 2) Over and over and over again, Woolley took little credit for the Derby win, BlackBerry Preakness (gr. I) second, or Belmont (gr. I) third. He credited the horse.
• A filly winning the Preakness for the first time since 1924. Those who witnessed the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) were left speechless by Rachel Alexandra’s dazzling 20 1/4-length procession the day prior to the Derby and left wondering if she would have beaten the boys had she run Saturday instead of Friday. Her owners (Dolphus Morrison and Michael Lauffer) did not want to run against males, but the next week she was sold (to Jess Jackson and Harold McCormick), switched barns (from Hal Wiggins to Steve Asmussen), and was headed to Baltimore for the middle leg of the Triple Crown.
• A jockey giving up the mount on the Kentucky Derby winner. In an unprecedented but completely understandable move, Borel stuck with the filly and made the right choice as she won the Preakness, holding off Mine That Bird and jockey Mike Smith. Borel and his longtime agent, Jerry Hissam, were put in an unusual situation but did what was right for the rider’s business.
• Borel regaining the mount on Mine That Bird; Borel becoming a media sensation. Calvin with Jay Leno; Calvin with David Letterman; Calvin on Good Morning America; Calvin ringing the opening bell on Wall Street as traders chanted his name. It’s Calvinmania. What is President Obama waiting for? Calvin Borel is a sweet, warm, down-to-earth person you can’t help but love, and every appearance helps Thoroughbred racing. If we could be so lucky as to have Mine That Bird turn into the next John Henry, we could ride this show for years to come. Again, Woolley showed complete class, knowing the jockey had to make the choice he did and putting him back on for the Belmont. It appeared Borel moved too soon in the Belmont, but after acknowledging that, the trainer said he would “be the first to pat him on the back.”
• Another trainer winning his first graded race in a classic. While it was not his first start in a graded race—it was his seventh—Tim Ice won the Belmont with Summer Bird for his first graded victory. A 15-year assistant, Ice learned his lessons well, skipping the Preakness, shipping to Belmont Park early, and saddling the colt to win the “Test of the Champion” in only his fifth start.
• Two classic winners for a sire in his first crop. We’ve seen numerous sires get one classic winner lately in his first crop, but Gainesway Farm stallion Birdstone notched two in Mine That Bird and Summer Bird. They carry C.V. Whitney bloodlines, and that leading to success is the one thing that could have been predicted to have turned out as it did.