Hard to Predict - by Dan Liebman

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.

9 Comments

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mike williams

The Triple Crown series was all Calvin Borel.He exemplified his horsemanship by reiterating that it was all about the horse, and nothing else. I believe that he rode the best race possible considering the quality of the horses ahead of him, Dunkirk and Charitable Man.Even though there was no Triple Crown winner,Mine That Bird's Derby, Rachel Alexandria's Preakness,and Summer Birds' Belmont will be remembered for a long time.Mine That Bird's running style will ensure that we should see some exciting come from behind finishes.

09 Jun 2009 6:24 PM
CRob87

Yes...it was a pretty Interesting year.

But, NO...it was really NOT that "Hard To Predict" the winners of the Preakness and the Belmont.   The Derby Maybe, as it usually is, but not the Preakness and the Belmont.

Everyone pretty much knew that Rachel would be the better horse (On That Day) after seeing her 20 length Romp in the Oaks.   And knowing that the Preakness WAS a distance that she could handle vs. the Belmont which she could Not.   And knowing that MTB now had a slight Disadvantage with a new Jockey who didn't know the horse (Yet).

And you should've known that Summer Bird was about to have his own break-out day knowing his breeding and the fact that he was Fresh and Rested.  

While MTB was going to get tired in the last couple of hundred yards in the Toughest and Longest race of his 4th race in 10 weeks.

I think it's funny that (Most) people when talking about the Triple Crown seem to overlook All of these horses Prep races and Not take them into consideration by the time the Belmont rolls around.

In my mind, the number 1 thing that makes Winning the Triple Crown so Tough is that it really is a 4 race series and Not just a 3 race series when you factor in their Prep races.

09 Jun 2009 7:34 PM
Scott

People don't really show the importance of the Triple Crown.  In every sport, there is a champion. Every year there is a Super Bowl Champion, World Series Champion, etc.  Horse racing just shows us, a real champion is seldom seen.  And when it does happen, what a thrill to see.

10 Jun 2009 12:20 AM
da3hoss

I love Cb and so respect him, so this is not meant sindely at all, but my memory of the Belmont, besides my saying "a bird in the race is worth two in the Belmont" was when CB moved on MTB I just turned to my husband and said "CB just doesn't know how long that stretch run is"...

10 Jun 2009 7:43 AM
RobfromBMore

Another great and thrilling Triple Crown Series. Just look at the last seven years of the Triple Crown and what fascinating stories!

Another great and unpredictable racing series. Kudos to hard working Calvin Borel and now being recognized as one of the great jockeys. Shame on me for not having MTB in my KY Derby exacta box. R.A. was exciting in her race against the boys. The t.v. ratings for the Preakness and the KY Derby were higher this year. Little talk about how fast the Belmont Stakes was. 2:27 and 2 was the fastest time since Summer Bird's daddy ran in 2004. Summer Bird's time was the sixth fastest in the last 20 years. I had Summer Bird in a healthy double with Gio Ponti. It may be sometime before we have a triple crown winner. Too many good horses being produced and trained by top flight trainers. I hope that we can see Dunkirk, Quality Road, The Pamplemouse eventually return back to the races. MTB is the real deal...look, he did 2:01 and change for the mile and a quarter in the Belmont. I look forward to seeing Mine That Bird in the Travers, The Breeders Cup Classic, The Donn Handicap, The Steven Foster next year. He is a gelding so we can enjoy him for the next few years. Another side note to fans is that the Kentucky Derby is the only annual U.S.A. sporting event that attracts more women to watch the event than men.

Also, get off Calvin Borel and his ride on MTB in the Belmont. Calvin made his move but Summer Bird was the best on this day. Congrats to Dunkirk on a great second in the Belmont and I hope Dunkirk does fine after his surgery. Can't wait to start getting excited about the Triple Crown Series for 2010. I start my watch in October of the previous year. Everyone, go out and enjoy your local track soon. Take some friends with you!

11 Jun 2009 1:27 PM
BlueHen

Great idea, Rob!  I'm counting the days 'til Saratoga opens (that's my local track).  It's so much fun to go there and see the top 2-year-olds and wonder who's going to be in the following year's Triple Crown races.

11 Jun 2009 9:45 PM
needler in Virginia

It's been a wonderful ride this year; when Rachel won the Preakness, the TC was forgotten and we got on with the series.... but getting to see her strut her stuff was terrific. We followed the intrigue moment by moment and some were heart-stoppers! Loved Bird One in the Derby, and Bird Two in the Belmont. Not bad for two "unknown" trainers and their "unknown" horses from Birdstone. Actually, I'd bet Bird, Sr really didn't care about his kids' accomplishments, but that's OK -- the point is proven pretty well.

While I REALLY, REALLY would like to see one more (at least) Triple Crown winner, I'd rather that winner be head and shoulders above all the rest; I'd rather look at the winner and say "there he (she....OK, let me dream just a little) stands; there's no question who is the best. I don't want any dq's, or drugs, or flim flam going on. I want to see the real deal. Maybe we'll all get lucky enough to see that again. But in the interim (and it's becoming generations!) I'm going to enjoy every minute of every TC series, and this year could very well be THE most unusual we've seen a a looooooong time.

AND how soon we forget.......Borel moved too soon? Probably, but the winning jock THIS year pulled up his horse LAST year, and NO WAY do I say what I really think about THAT! The Belmont is a deceptive race; looks pretty easy, wide turns, long run to the wire, small field this year, so no really dramatic traffic problems until Dunkirk interfered with Charitable Man, but this race is stunningly difficult to win. Borel was unfamiliar with the track AND the surface... fair enough. He probably should have ridden it a couple of times just to get the feel of the place. But if you remember, Desormeaux guaranteed a mortal lock for Big Brown last year and that didn't wok out so well, either! All that said, I usually don't second guess jockeys, 'cause they're out there doing it and I'm just watching.

Relax and enjoy the ride we had this year; I hope we get to see The Birds a lot this year and that Bird One goes on and on and on and on ............I LOVE that little horse.

Cheers, and safe trips for all.

11 Jun 2009 9:59 PM
Rowner

I agree with needler, I would rather see a triple crown that the winner is heads and shoulders above rest. Than a series of races that are geared down so we see more frequent winners but inferior horses. We should take this triple crown series and remember it for the great individual performances by both horses and rider and be thankful that we might be able to see these horses run longer than their 3 year old year I.E. MTB.

14 Jun 2009 12:24 PM
nyfalcon

it was fantastic!! it reprisented  all sexes  and aspects of breeding , a gelding, a filly  and a colt ... how  can you beat  that. so no one  can complane!!

15 Jun 2009 3:01 PM

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