(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.