Thursday, 08 August 2013 14:45

A Look at Thoroughbred Racing Immortals

By Brendan O'Meara | News

There’s a bit of a lull this time every meet. The momentum from the first few weekends has worn off, yet it’s before the big finale of Travers and then closing weekend. There’s no better time for Saratoga to turn its attention to racing’s immortals.

Friday, August 9, a new class gets its plaques hung in the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame with Calvin Borel, a three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey, head of the class.

You could say he was born to ride. When he was a boy, back when his family called him “Boo-Boo” because, to put it mildly, he wasn’t exactly a planned birth, he was on horseback on the sugarcane farms of Louisiana. He rode races on the bush tracks and realized soon thereafter that his schooling didn’t involve books and SAT scores, but rather the skill to be one with the horse below him.

At 46, that journey began close to 40 years ago and here he is, now the winner of over 5,000 races, three Kentucky Derbys and over $120 million in earnings.

Borel made an impact at Saratoga as well. In 2007, coming off his first Kentucky Derby win with Street Sense, Borel won the Jim Dandy and the Travers Stakes aboard the son of Street Cry. He also took the Alabama Stakes aboard Lady Joanne that same year winning the rare Travers Alabama doubles.

Then in 2009 he locked up the mount that would become the best horse he’d ever ride: Rachel Alexandra. He rode her to an undefeated season that year—8-for-8—which included a 20 ¼-length romp in the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Derby. Two weeks later she broke from Post 13 in the Preakness Stakes defeating that year’s Derby winner, Mine That Bird, by a neck. 

Borel easily rode her to a 19-length win in the Mother Goose at Belmont Park in June of that year and it became clear that she needed to be in a class above her own. Her next effort saw her and Borel travel to New Jersey to demolish a field of three-year-old males in the Grade 1 Haskell. There, all the while, was Borel waving his finger the entire way.

In a miraculous push for Horse of the Year consideration, Rachel Alexandra’s connections opted to run her in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes against older males. In this race, Borel took her to lead and blistered through breathtaking speed fractions. She and Borel somehow held on to win the Woodward and, as race caller Tom Durkin said, “Raised the rafters here at the Spa.”

Along with Borel, Housebuster, a champion sprinter in 1990 and 1991 goes into the Hall. He won the Jerome, King’s Bishop and Spectacular Bid and was 8-for-10 in his three-year-old season. 

Invasor, the 2006 Horse of the Year, and winner of the 2006 Whitney Handicap, joins Housebuster. Invasor won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2006 for Shadwell Farms and his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. At the age of five, Invasor won the Donn Handicap and the Dubai World Cup. 

Lure, McDynamo and Tuscalee are the others horses elected.

No ‘Traffic’ Jam in Whitney

Cross Traffic, who narrowly lost the Grade 1 Met Mile at Belmont Park, earned a Grade 1 win in the Whitney Invitational last weekend. As predicted Cross Traffic, Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man went to the lead, but the fractions on the front end weren’t brutal. Turning for home Cross Traffic kept on while the others faded.

“The plan was to let him run to the first turn,” said Todd Pletcher, Cross Traffic’s trainer. “Being outside of Mucho Macho Man and Fort Larned—the other two speeds—we felt like we were in a good position. It worked out really well. We got a great run into the first turn. The first quarter was key—Johnny was able to get to the position he wanted without overdoing it, and kind of picked it up from there. It was a strongly run race throughout, and we were just hoping he could hold on the last part after the two losses we had at Belmont. Those were heart-breaking losses, to run as well as he did in those two races and miss by a whisker. Turning for home, I thought we had a big shot, but I still wanted to get there.”

Pletcher still maintains an edge in the trainer standings as of August 6 with 16 wins. Chad Brown has 11 and David Jacobson and Michael Maker each have seven.

Orb to Arrive at the Spa

Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner, still away at Fair Hill in Maryland, is training well as he gears up for the Travers Stakes on August 24. Orb recently whipped through a five-furlong breeze in a minute flat over the dirt.

“He breezed great at Fair Hill yesterday. Everything is a ‘go,’” said Shug McGaughey, his trainer. “Everything was great at Fair Hill yesterday and he came out of it good.”

And Saturday he will, at last, make his trip to McGaughey’s Saratoga barn.

“We kind of put our heads together and said, ‘Let’s get our last major work done there and then move him up here,’” McGaughey said. “I’m very relaxed with this. He’ll have two weeks here. He’ll have his major work, then have a week to get adapted here and we’ll blow him out on Monday [August 19]. He’ll have plenty of time to settle in.”

An intriguing addition to the Travers picture is a duo by trainer Ken McPeek. McPeek shared the Travers crown a year ago when his Golden Ticket hit the wire at the same time as Alpha. This year he’s gearing up Java’s War, winner of this year’s Blue Grass Stakes, and War Dancer.

Java’s War’s best efforts have come on non-dirt tracks. His win the Blue Grass was on Polytrack and his fourth-place effort in the Grade II Swaps at Hollywood Park was on an all-weather track. But the switch back to dirt is on his mind.

“Mr. Fipke and I have discussed it, and he was inclined to try him on the dirt again,” McPeek said. “At this point, they’re both doing well. We’ve still got to do the math. We’ve got to look at the past performances, we’ve got to see how the horses are training, make sure everybody’s hitting on all cylinders, that they’re drilling the feed tubs; all the details.”

Palace Malice, the Jim Dandy winner, and Verrazano, the Haskell winner, haven’t recorded a workout for Pletcher since their wins. Will Take Charge, trained by D. Wayen Lukas, worked four furlongs in 51.02 seconds on August 6. 

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