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"Chip came in and helped me out," says Allen. "There were about five of them, two of us, and we done all right. We've been friends ever since." Woolley has trained thoroughbreds and quarter horses for 25 years.
Now he suggested that Allen and Blach buy Mine That Bird. The price was $400,000, and the partners each paid half. They rushed him into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October, and he finished last in a 12-horse field. Four months later he was second in his debut at Sunland. On March 29 he was fourth in the $800,000 Sunland Derby, but had accumulated enough graded earnings—if not street cred—to merit Derby consideration and phone calls from Churchill Downs reminding the horse's connections of their position. They were pointing to the Derby all right: The May 9 Lone Star Derby in Texas. "To tell you the truth, I was scared," says Allen. "In the Kentucky Derby, you're running against D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert. But my partner and my dad are getting a little age on them."
They needed an experienced jockey. Borel had based his 3-year-old plans around a horse named Beethoven, but he went out with an injury in late March. Woolley reached out to Borel's longtime agent, Jerry Hissam, in mid-April. Borel and his fiancée, Lisa Funk, cued up Internet replays of Mine That Bird's races. "Calvin liked him," says Funk. "He thought maybe the horse was a little too forwardly placed in the Sunland Derby, and he might like to wait a little longer."
But Borel had other issues for Derby week. He is the regular rider on sublime 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra, who on the day before the Derby won the Kentucky Oaks by a staggering 20¼ lengths. Even after the Derby, Funk said, "Obviously the focus of the weekend for Calvin was on Rachel Alexandra. There was a lot of pressure to win that race. There was no pressure in the Derby."
In the Derby, the smallish Mine That Bird was squeezed coming out of the gate. "Once that happened, I just put him on a loose rein and dropped back and relaxed," said Borel. He was last at the quarter mile. Last at the half. Last at three quarters, as rabbits Join in the Dance and Regal Ransom dueled on the front and Pioneerof the Nile and Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem challenged. (They would finish second and fourth, respectively.)
What took place next was stunning. Borel passed 18 horses in 21 explosive seconds. He shot by General Quarters on the rail, swept outside past Atomic Rain, ducked inside, and just past the three-sixteenths pole squeezed through a tiny gap between Join in the Dance and the rail. Mine That Bird has no stones, but Borel's are big enough for both of them.
"Nobody goes to the wood [rail] like Calvin Borel," said Kent Desormeaux, who rode 2008 Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown and finished 12th on Saturday aboard Hold Me Back. "I swear his horse almost made himself skinnier for Calvin on that one. It was one of the most patient, skilled rides ever."
Said Borel, "They always drift out when they're tired. My brother [Cecil, a trainer] always told me, inside is the shortest way around. It's not as bad as it looks. I've been thrown over the rail, but if you're afraid, you're in the wrong game." Once free, Mine That Bird extended his lead with every stride, winning by 6¾ lengths, the largest margin since Triple Crown winner Assault in 1946.
As always, the next big test is the May 16 Preakness, where surely there will be no dearth of trainers eager to make Mine That Bird prove himself again. For Borel, Rachel Alexandra also awaits. "She's the best horse I ever rode," says Borel, stifling any debate about the Oaks and Derby winners. Thus far Rachel Alexandra's owners have said that they will not run the filly in the Preakness or the June 6 Belmont against colts, which might save Borel a prickly decision.
On Saturday evening he wore a black suit as he signed autographs and posed for pictures in a second-floor lounge outside the Churchill Downs jockeys' room. Funk stood nearby, cradling an enormous bouquet of roses. Two years ago Borel won and called his ailing mother, Ella, in Louisiana. She passed away last fall. "She watched me today," said Borel. "I know she watched." On this day, everybody watched him, and everybody watched an epic ride on a horse who had no chance to win.