Monday, June 1, 2009

Woolley, Borel together again in Belmont


Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography

by Mike Curry

With Rachel Alexandra officially out of the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 6, jockey Calvin Borel can shift his focus to Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) winner Mine That Bird for the final jewel of the Triple Crown.

Friday’s announcement from owners Jess Jackson and Harold T. McCormick that BlackBerry Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Rachel Alexandra will not contest the 1 1/2-mile Belmont also allowed trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr. to finalize his plans for the race without worrying about who would ride the Birdstone gelding.

Borel committed to ride the Medaglia d’Oro filly if she was entered in the Belmont, but Woolley said he would wait for the connections of Rachel Alexandra to make a decision before deciding on a rider. His patience was rewarded as Borel will be back in the saddle of the gelding he guided to a 50.60-to-1 upset win in the Kentucky Derby (video).

Woolley said Jackson called him to personally tell him the news.

"It showed a lot of class on Mr. Jackson's part," Woolley said. "We really appreciate him letting us know and letting us make our decision. Now, we're just looking forward to going on to the Belmont.

"You know it's grueling to put these races back to back. She ran one day earlier than I did in the Derby, but it's hard to put these races back to back and even harder on a filly. So that really didn't surprise me and it's one reason I've held out for Calvin, thinking possibly that she might not run."

Borel said he is excited to ride Mine That Bird again and believes Woolley has the classic winner ready.

"With three races back-to-back like that, you just want him to go into the race happy and I think Chip's got him happy," Borel said of Mine That Bird. "So we're [going] to hope for the best and have a good trip and, like I said, I want to thank them for putting me back on [Mine That Bird] and giving me this much time, and thank Mr. Jackson for announcing it [Friday].

"Whatever Mr. Jackson wanted to do, I was 110% behind," Borel continued. "But I think he did the right call. I think Mr. Jackson is all about the horse, not the races. It's not money—it's his horse. I think he has more confidence in his horse and he wants to keep her safe and make sure she's healthy and everything. She ran hard [in the Preakness]. She struggled a lot, like I said when I come back [from the Preakness]. I think he did it for the horse."

Borel could become the first jockey to sweep the three Triple Crown races on more than one horse.

Mine That Bird is scheduled to breeze at Churchill on Monday.

Three Belmont Stakes hopefuls breezed on Saturday at Belmont Park.

Arkansas Derby (G2) third-place finisher Summer Bird breezed five furlongs under Racing Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux in 1:01.89 on a track rated as fast. Summer Bird’s breeze ranked fifth of nine timed workouts at the distance.

"He breezed brilliantly," Desormeaux said. "I think what impressed me the most about Summer Bird was his energy level. He came off the track happier than he went out, which is a great indication of a healthy, happy horse, as well as a fast one."

Summer Bird finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby on May 2 in his previous start.

Two of trainer Nick Zito’s three Belmont hopefuls worked at the Elmont, New York track. Peter Pan Stakes (G2) third-place finisher Brave Victory and Federico Tesio Stakes winner Miner’s Escape breezed a half-mile together, both timed in :48.66, which ranked fifth of 14 workouts at the distance.

"I was very happy with everything," Zito said of Brave Victory, who will be ridden by Rajiv Maragh in the Belmont, and Miner's Escape, who will be ridden by Jose Lezcano. "I wanted them to go even. They both went great, and they're ready to go."

Zito said Nowhere to Hide, who finished 17th of 19 in the Derby, probably will not contest the Belmont.

"He's up at Saratoga [Race Course]," Zito said. "He'll work either Sunday or Monday, but right now, I'm leaning against it."