Jockeying For Votes - Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the January 16, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)     

Jockey Calvin Borel had another excellent year in 2009, but his 2010 has not started out so well. On Jan. 5 the Kentucky Racing Commission not only doubled the length of a suspension he had appealed, but specified the dates it must be served. The following day when the Eclipse Awards finalists were announced, Borel was not listed as one of the three jockeys with a chance to be honored Jan. 18.

To take the easier of the two issues first, the Eclipse Awards are decided by voters designated by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Daily Racing Form as well as regular members of the National Turf Writers Association.

There were 271 eligible voters for the sport’s 2009 champions. A total of 232 ballots were returned, meaning 39 persons (14%) did not even take the time to submit their choices. If these 39 individuals are not forever stricken from voting, the three sponsoring organizations should be ashamed of themselves.

In the category of jockey, the voters came down strictly on the side of earnings, with Garrett Gomez, Julien Leparoux, and Ramon Dominguez the three finalists. (I have no problem with that, though full disclosure mandates mentioning I voted for Borel, followed by Dominguez and Leparoux).

Gomez rode the earners of $18,571,171, Leparoux $18,560,565, and Dominguez $18,348,422. As for trips to the winner’s circle, Russell Baze again led that category with 415.

(As an interesting side note, 29 jockeys had earnings in 2009 in excess of $6.669 million, the winnings of the sport’s leading owner.)

Borel did not have his best year in terms of wins or earnings, but he won his second Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), aboard longshot Mine That Bird, and then was put in an awkward position, choosing Rachel Alexandra for the BlackBerry Preakness (gr. I) after she had been purchased and pointed to that race, which she won. Borel was back aboard Mine That Bird when he attempted to become the first jockey to win the Triple Crown races in the same year aboard more than one horse. The two finished third behind Summer Bird and Dunkirk.

Borel, of course, is the only person who sat on Rachel Alexandra during a race in 2009 as the 3-year-old filly went unbeaten in her eight races last year.

Whether Gomez, Leparoux, or Dominguez, the winner will be most deserving. This writer simply felt winning two of the three classics and riding one of the two Horse of the Year candidates through an unbeaten campaign meant more than money.

As for the other issue, the Kentucky Racing Commission is correct in trying to take the upper hand in the game jockeys and trainers play when suspended. It is common to appeal and later take the suspension during a time of less impact.

Borel was suspended for three days for interference during a race at Churchill Downs in November. He appealed but later dropped the appeal after the meet was over.

The commission, stating it was attempting to stop frivolous claims, upped the suspension to six days and mandated those days be Jan. 15-17 and Jan. 22-24, the first six days of the Oaklawn Park meeting.

A jockey or trainer should absolutely have the right to appeal, but should the suspension be upheld, the days, as the Kentucky commission ordered in this case, should be served during a race meeting commensurate to the one in which the infraction occurred.

What’s The Point

While on the subject of Eclipse Awards, this writer was puzzled by the winner in the photography division. The question is not whether the photo taken by Jeff Taylor is an award-winning shot, but whether it should have been eligible in the first place. Taylor’s photo is of a horse and rider at the Blue Ridge Hunt Point to Point races in Clarke County, Va.

The guidelines for entries distributed by the NTRA say submissions are “for outstanding achievement in the coverage of Thoroughbred racing.”

This writer fails to see what a point-to-point race has to do with Thoroughbred racing.


Leave a Comment:

Junie Wise-Rocky Road Farm

I agree...GREAT Photo,but usually the award does go to a Steeplechase or Thoroughbred....Who picks this award????...I am disapointed!!!!

12 Jan 2010 2:51 PM

Perhaps the voters think that Calvin should have been at Belmont riding races instead touring the talk show circuit?  I like Calvin but just because he rode Rachel doesn't mean he's the best jockey out there.

12 Jan 2010 3:08 PM
sid fernando

dan, it is TB racing, but i couldn't agree with your point more. Ridiculous, especially since that genre has won the Eclipse photos several times lately.

12 Jan 2010 3:15 PM
needler in Virginia

Dan, you're not the only one puzzled by the omission of Borel from the nominees. His accomplishments last year are stunning and well worthy of a nomination, at LEAST, and a win, at best. But then, I can't imagine why 39 votes were not returned AT ALL. Possibly those who failed to vote just didn't care?? If that's so, then they might serve racing better by going to work for NASCAR.

As to the photo......while it is a stunning shot, it doesn't really qualify so how did it get the win? Is it possible the competing horse is, indeed, a Thoroughbred? Or doesn't ANYONE read the guidelines for determining winners?? Nah, never mind; the answer to that particular stupid question would be just as absurd as the question itself. And I thought that Steve would be the only one I peppered with stupid questions!

Oh, well. Another racing year has come and gone with some flat-out terrific racing, glorious horses, talented jockeys and a few very special owners and trainers; yet the Eclipse awards still seem more than a bit political to me, so I'll watch and enjoy and "tut, tut, tut" just like I do every year. The year ahead looks pretty interesting, as well, but dammit! I wish Rachel had shown up at the Breeder's Cup!

Cheers and safe trips to all.

12 Jan 2010 11:20 PM
Tom Chase

Calvin Borel has represented Thoroughbred racing very effectively since he was thrust into that role by the media.  

He was chosen for these mounts because he earned that privilege.  

In a world where the media thrives on negativity, Calvin has represented racing positively and genuinely.

For these reasons, Calvin should win the Eclipse Award.

13 Jan 2010 6:48 AM

I concur that the selected Eclipse photo award subject is redundant to a recent award winner. Further contrary to one printed suggestion the rider in the recent image was not "ok" and was in fact seriously hurt.

Further its agreed that the NTRA is a separate but working partner with the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) so objecting to this being a non-NTRA race image is valid.

However there should be more caution used before suggesting steeplechasing is not a thoroughbred-based race. Those aren't saddlebreds going over hurdles but rather thoroughbreds. Several of which, such as Old Man Buck and Steppenwolfer, were loyal flat track runners in NTRA races previously.

13 Jan 2010 9:59 AM

Sid, thanks for pointing out (no pun intended) jump racing IS Thoroughbred racing. And not just the step child of flat racing. I agree great photo but easily taken. I've seen better ones that did not involve a spectacular fall, and ones that did this year. I've been in several myself.  And yes the genre has gotten the nod several times in recent years and they are always of the same type. Visually impressive to the eye and fodder for the bloggers with an agenda. The industry needs to be careful of how it presents itself now that we are in age of easily spreading false or misleading information.  

Dan, I agree throw the bums out. If they can not be bothered to cast a thought out vote in EVERY category they should not be allowed to vote ever again.  There are plenty of people out there with a passion for the sport that could replace them.

13 Jan 2010 10:43 AM
Soldier Course


I agree that there's some connection there. I wonder if Calvin Borel offended some voters' sense of good sportsmanship by taking off the Kentucky Derby winner and then failing to familiarize himself with the track at Belmont Park.

13 Jan 2010 2:45 PM

Glimmerglass, The rider, who happens to be a cousin of mine was not in fact seriously hurt.  I will grant you everyone has a different idea of what serious is but to a jump jockey it was nothing.  Anna is a very good rider, who's mother by the way won the Maryland Hunt Cup, and in demand. I would suspect that the only thing that really hurt was the fact that see could not ride races for a while. In case you heard other wise the horse was fine to.

13 Jan 2010 5:08 PM

To Larrythejumpguy:  I disagree that voters should be required to cast a vote in every category, unless the rules are changed to add a 'no champion' option.  There are years when no horse steps up to lead a division, and in those years voters should have the option of not crowning a champion.  But as it stands a voter who objects to filling a spot in a weak division can only abstain.

13 Jan 2010 5:28 PM

Needler, I'm surprised being from Virginia where Steeplechase racing is held near and dear, and seeing how vocal you are on these blogs that you would not know that all Steeplechase races are restricted to registered THOROUGHBREDS only. For those that don't know the term Point to Point races I will explain.  Steeplechase racing has a governing body known as The National Steeplechase Association or NSA.  The races governed by the NSA are called sanctioned races, they provide the officials, stewards, take entries, course inspection, distribute prize money, etc. There are 3 jump seasons, spring, summer and fall.  Point to Point races, are non-sanctioned races but are run under NSA rules but are not governed by the NSA. The races meets,most of which have been around for decades put on the show. For the most part there is no prize money. Point to Points for the most part are pre-season "schooling" races to see who is ready for the big the show and who stays in the minors. Make no mistake this is not pony club racing. All of the top jumpers in training have a tune up go around. A few hundred to many thousand spectators show up every year. More then are at most flat tracks on any given Saturday or Sunday. Go figure, no prize money, no (legal) betting, no seating just Thoroughbred race horses in all their splendor. And contrary to popular beleive very few ever get hurt and run for years if they are good enough.

13 Jan 2010 5:43 PM

Wonder the same thing, sidekickflats.  But than Mike Smith was not nominated either and I consider him a much better Jockey with a lot more class than Calvin Borel.  He also has more loyalty to his horses owners than Borel does.

13 Jan 2010 9:26 PM
John T

I have no quarrel with the winning

eclipse award photo of a horse running in a point to point race as he may well be a thoroughbred.It,s not uncommon these days to see an Illustrious sire like Sadler,s Wells have runners over both fences and hurdles in countries like Ireland and England.But yes I do agree the Thoroughbred is a very graceful animal and surely a more appropiate photo could have been chosen to show of the beauty of such an magnificent creature.

14 Jan 2010 12:01 AM

I'm tired of the belmont talk of not riding that week. there was not a offer too ride that week by anyone at belmont, moreover if you check the first two week at saratoga I has the agent was not ask to ride for the new york trainer there even though we there every morning of the meet to work and ride. that is what got calvin to the big picture,he still work as hard today as he did before any derby.

14 Jan 2010 12:21 AM

Calvin Borel is a jockey who has played his sympathy card a little too much.  The year-long pity party for poor old Calvin after his Triple Crown success was almost laughable.  His performance in the Belmont, after sitting out a week to enjoy his new-found fame, is a true example of his overhype.  I only wish he could sit on his great horse Rachel Alexandra and get a first-hand look at Zenyatta's rear end when she flew past him in the stretch.  For me, Calvin Borel is not a great jockey, he is simply a hard-working, not too smart guy who has had a little bit of success, and really showed his true colors.

14 Jan 2010 9:33 AM
needler in Virginia

Larry, as a matter of fact, I DO know that the point to pointers are TB's/.....that was a VERY BAD attempt on my part to be sarcastic. I apologize. I've been a huge fan for years and am thrilled that the pointers can race for many years after flat racers are retired to stud. But thanks for the information; I'm not at all bothered that you corrected me, and I hope your post will educate others who DON'T know the truth about these amazing creatures........ talk about flying without wings!!! WOW!

All that said, I still am bothered by the picture, but not as much as I was by last year's winner.........I mean how many times has Frankie Dettori done his flying dismount, and how many times have we seen a photo of same?? This year's photo seems to be a repeat of many others of 'chasers.......I just think an Eclipse award winning photo should be of something we've never seen before.......

Oh, well. 'Nuff said.

Thanks for your post, Larry; well spoken and well said.

Cheers and safe trips to all.

14 Jan 2010 12:07 PM
Tom D

No question that Calvin had a ride for the history books in winning the derby.  But over the course of the season his record is not eclipse award worthy.  Calvin rode one of our horses at Saratoga and almost missed the race because he was signing autographs on the way over to the paddock.  He almost had to go out to the track to mount the horse and didn't spend any time with the trainer.  You can guess the result.  Calvin's ego got out of control mid year and he stopped being the Calvin that got him here.  He changed for the worse.  It happens to a lot of people.  Personally to me, a little humble pie is a good thing.  I am pleased that he does not have a chance for an eclipse award this season.

14 Jan 2010 2:03 PM

Ctscoots, adding a no vote category good to me. But not to cast a vote in one category due to lack of interest and or not knowing enough about the horses and or peopole in the category is a poor excuse.  Spending some time doing some research is what should be expected. A voter should consider it an honor and respect it as so.

14 Jan 2010 5:05 PM

I am wondering why you are unsure as to the connection between steeplechasing and Thoroughbreds? Firstly, isn't the Steeplechase Horse of the Year award in fact an Eclipse Award? Second, ALL steeplechase horses are Thoroughbreds and are covered by the Jockey Club. Many of these horses raced on the flat and were unsucessful. Instead of sending them off to the "meat man" like many owners in "Thoroughbred Racing" do, they were given a second chance. Maybe there is a split between Thoroughbred racing and Steeplechasing...Thoroughbred racing sends their horses to Canada or Mexico, and exposes them to who knows what before their demise, steeplechasing takes care of its horses! Anyone seen McDynamo lately! He was an Eclipse Award winner who is enjoying a peaceful retirement, just like all "Thoroughbreds" should be granted. The National Steeplechase Association takes care of its retired Thoroughbreds, maybe the National Thoroughbred Horse Racing Association (for flat racing) needs to do the same.

14 Jan 2010 5:30 PM

If you go to you tube and input

"horse racing" the first images that will pop up are "horse racing accidents".  I'm sorry, but that's just not what I want to see.  It would have been much more preferable to see a jumper soar, caught by the camera in mid-flight. (which is the type of pix my neighbor has on her FB page).  But instead we get an Eclipse award going to the sensationalized instead of the grand achiever.  What a sad commentary on what the media "thinks" of the fans of horses, racing and steeple chase.

My neighbor has TB jumpers and competes in shows.  It's absolutely breath-taking.  But the photo that won is simply sad.

As to Calvin Borel, he's a great jockey and he always rides well.  But I noticed that at Saratoga he seemed to be ignored by trainers and owners...and I'm certain that greatly affected his purses, which really shouldn't be the focal point of the Eclipse.  I feel badly that he was not nominated.

14 Jan 2010 6:28 PM
Johnny Shep

That WAS a thoroughbred in the Eclipse photo.

15 Jan 2010 4:44 PM
Fire Slam


Mike Smith is one of my favorites jocks as well. But explain why he has more class then C-Bo?? Go into detail, please.

Is it because C-Bo has cajun accent? Or because he was riding on bush tracks instead of going to school?

How is Mike Smith more classy. Can handle folks saying he is just as classy, but MORE, dont think so. Every word out of C-Bo's mouth is yes mam/sir, talks to everyone, and is way too naive. He trys to make everyone happy, and has probably gotten him in trouble a few times.

Also, love the way his horse gets a drink of water/sponged before he cares for him self.

15 Jan 2010 5:52 PM

It's amazing that a jockey who won 2 legs of the TC and then guided a 3-year-old filly in a campaign for the ages is left out...

The same for Mike Smith...

It's a popularity contest...albeit an important one for especially colts...

15 Jan 2010 6:48 PM

I would have to agree that Borel is one of the top riders out there but I confess I was a getting a little weary of Calvin-mania - and I think it got him a little high on himself. Confidence is a necessary and commendable thing - but I did find this a little too much!

Definitely agree suspensions should be served under conditions similar to the ones at the time of the offense. Otherwise it becomes kinda like the suspended trainers who turn their strings over to assistants and make their "punishment" period little more than a vacation. And that is, after all, what a suspension is: a punishment for failing to follow the rules. It should be punitive or else it will have no effect on future behavior.

I also am not sure a point-to-point race is quite what is meant by the term, "thoroughbred racing," in the context of Eclipse awards. Surely a photograph of the racing we all see on a daily basis must exist and be of the quality an Eclipse award demands. It's sort of like the time the award went for a photograph of Frankie Dettori's flying dismount - with nary a horse in sight! It was a good shot - but hey, I think maybe it should at least INCLUDE a horse!

15 Jan 2010 8:30 PM

Re Eclipse award for photography:  It has been, and remains, unfortunate that an award as prestigious as an Eclipse is awarded for a single photograph, this picture often the result of good fortune placing the photographer at the right place at the right time.  We have heard how, in the past, a winner happened to have a telephoto lens on hand when a spectacular accident occurred...that award winning photo was shot, if I recall correctly, from the roof of the track grandstand several hundred feet from the accedent...a fortuitous event for the photographer surely, but hardly comparable nor nearly as meaningful as the Eclipse that is given given to a leading trainer, jockey, owner, etc., the latter accolades all earned after a full years work.  I have long felt that the Eclipse award for photography should be similarly given for a BODY of photographic work (eg a book, a series, a photographic article, etc) not a single photograph.  Efforts that come to mind, in this regard, include Barbara Livingston's excellent books (Old Friends, Saratoga, Four Seasons of Racing), or Robertson's, Weaver's and Strodes excellent "Keeneland, Reflections on a thoroughbred Tradition."  Now these efforts are truly outstanding and reflect the results of great endeavor and photographic skill and would prove most worthy of an Eclipse award.  Change to this format and then the photography Eclipse could stand meaningfully beside those earned in other capacities within the sport.  

15 Jan 2010 11:07 PM
Fire Slam


Nobody has more loyalty to their horses then C-Bo.

Almost every morning he is at his brothers (Cecil) cleaning stalls with Dee (groom/assistant for Cecil).

The fact he took off of a KY Derby winner and stuck with a filly did the opposite of what folks are saying. It proved he was loyal to the filly!! Not many folks would have taken off a Derby winner to ride a filly.

It showed confidence and loyalty. Oh, by the way, he also won the race, which proved he knows his horses!

16 Jan 2010 12:01 PM

When is Calvin going to make a honest woman out of his long time girl friend.  hehe.  Calvin is good for the right horse, but if I had to choose a jock for any of my horses, he would be down on the list.

16 Jan 2010 9:25 PM

SO UNFAIR TO CALVIN.  He rode a Great race in the Derby and delivered on Rachel each time he sat on her. Very disappointed in the narrow minded voters.

17 Jan 2010 6:47 PM

I am a little late here but certainly appreciate the knowledge presented on Steeplechase and Point to Point.

As I recall, in the UK Steeplechase presents fixed jumps while Hurdles presents jumps that are collapsible (if that is the correct term).

Is that differentiation true in the US as well?

17 Jan 2010 11:07 PM
Asst. Hotwalker

Calvin won the derby with a rail ride on a horse that has not yet won again. He had the wisdom to take off the derby winner, to ride Rachael. The man works hard, and in the few years of riding he has left, I hope to see him have simular success.

18 Jan 2010 9:15 AM

Steeplechase is a Thoroughbred Racing for those of us with global view of racing.

18 Jan 2010 4:24 PM
Mary in VT

So glad you mentioned Calvin Bo-rail. No one else could have pulled off that particular Kentucky Derby rail trip. I heard his stirrup hit the rail on Miss Isella. His rides on Rachel whom he rode into the history books and all the way to Horse of the Year were perfection.

To the many Americans who only watch the 3 YO Classics or might have caught him on a talk show, that very pleasant fellow who is so over the top sincere and enthusiastic is the very face of racing. A much better face it is too, than some of the stuffed shirts. You gotta love the man not just for his ability, but for his humility. Godspeed Calvin. Godspeed.

I agree one thousand percent that the Eclipse award voters who didn't cast a vote in one or more categories for any reason should no longer have that vote. Clearly trust was misplaced. So yank it.

19 Jan 2010 7:39 PM

I agree-- Calvin got BAMBOOZLED off an Eclipse as Best Jockey.  I guess its the 1-2 punch of using whips on Rachel (a no-no), and then getting suspended for a Riding violation.  I read in an article that Hal Wiggins instructed Calvin NOT TO USE the whip at any time on RACHEL.  So if you watch Rachel's earlier races when WIGGINS was trainer, Calvin NEVER used the whip.  Now that ASMUSSEN is trainer, he never made the same warning on Calvin. And Calvin was very LIBERAL with the use of whips on Rachel.. bad publicity for him.

Nevertheless, Calvin is a great jockey.  When he took over from BRIAN HERNANDEZ as Rachel's jockey, Rachel NEVER LOST a single race!  Calvin also gave MTB his first and only KENTUCKY DERBY win.  Not to mention that he guided Street Sense, and other champions in his 30-year career as jockey!!

Calvin SHOULD HAVE atleast been NOMINATED for an Eclipse Best Jockey award.  I have no idea why he got OVERLOOKED...Sadly, 2009 may be Calvin's LAST CHANCE for getting that Jockey award...

20 Jan 2010 9:42 AM

Calvin is not in the same league skillwise with Ramon,Garret,or Julian.Just look at his stats when he rides at an important meet like Saratoga,he is nowhere to be found.To vote for him as the top rider is ludicrous.

21 Jan 2010 10:10 PM

I will never forget watching a race from Churchill Downs last year. Calvin Borel was four lenghts on top at the eighth pole with no horse making a run.Calvin must have hit his mount 30 times from the eighth pole to the finish for absolutely no reason.If i owned that horse i would never let Calvin ride for me again.

21 Jan 2010 10:16 PM

Dan i think your way off base to put Borel in the same category as Dominguez.Gomez,or Leperoux.Yes he rode a great race in the Derby,and won the Preakness on much the best horse but that was two races.His year of work does not compare to the top riders.Just take a look at Saratoga or Belmont Park(he is a non factor when he rides with the elite)Get real Dan!

21 Jan 2010 10:26 PM

i agree calvin should have won an eclipse for jockey of the yr he has done more for this sport than any jockey in decades because of calvin we have lots of new fams of horsercing people are following this sweet kind man from humble beginnings and the horses that he rides calvin has given this sport a much needed shot in the arm he won the derby the oaks preakness and rode rachel  

29 Jan 2010 5:39 PM

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