Oh Calvin! A Belmont Postmortem

Pete Hausler


Borel after the Preakness. First read the preview, what follows is the Postmortem:  

So it ends. One of the most exciting, melodramatic, ya-need-a-scorecard, Triple Crown seasons in recent memory. A Bird won the 141st Belmont Stakes today, but it wasn’t the Bird that was getting all the ink this week. Long shot Summer Bird, who like his half-brother, Mine That Bird, brought up the rear for the first mile of this marathon mile and a half race, waited a bit longer to make his crackling move, went five wide around the turn, and overtook the first, second and third betting choices down the stretch.

There was redemption for winning jockey Kent Desormeaux on Summer Bird, who lost out last year in the Belmont on Big Brown, gunning for the Triple Crown. And there was a big old boot in the ass for Calvin Borel, courtesy of The Fates. Calvin will be criticized for moving his horse too soon, perhaps misjudging the gargantuan length of Belmont’s deep and sandy stretch, which has been the death of many a Triple Crown dream.

I was shocked to read this week that in his entire career, Borel has only run in seven races at Belmont Park. He could have easily doubled that number this week, I’m sure most trainers would have loved to have had him riding. You know, a couple trial runs for the Belmont Stakes. Maybe if he’d done one less late night talk show, and perhaps ridden in a few races this week at Belmont, he would have had a better feel for the track. In the parlance, Mine That Bird just hung in the stretch; some will say it’s because Borel mis-timed his move, (i.e., moved him too soon, and he tired). I happen to think it’s more likely that the three tough races in five weeks took it’s toll, finally.

Exciting stretch run though. Summer Bird gobbled up the track and picked off one by one those in front. He was fourth going around the final turn; according to The Bloodhorse magazine, you have to go back to 1933 to find a Belmont winner who was farther back than third going around the final turn. That’s an astounding stat.

Summer Bird is fast improving, he’ll get a freshening, and hit the big summer races, perhaps locally at Saratoga. Ditto Mine That Bird. It’s always interesting to see which of the Triple Crown also-rans turn into monsters in the summer season. One of the reasons these races are so tough to handicap is because three-year-olds are still learning the game. Invariably, there are always one or two horses who don’t run so hot in one or more Triple Crown races, then suddenly bloom and win key races in the summer and fall season. Dunkirk is probably that horse this year. He ran a great race today, almost won this one gate to wire. He hung in for a tough second; it was an impressive second for him, one of those races that builds character. He should do well in the summer.

In closing, a shout-out for Mine That Bird, the surprise star of these last five weeks and a horse we’ll likely see for many years, as he’s a gelding. There is so much money to be made in breeding thoroughbreds now, that if a horse does well as a three year old–especially if he takes one or more of the Triple Crown races–his stud fee skyrockets and the owners are afraid to race him, lest he sustain a life- or stud-threatening injury. So, colts are often retired before their time, and we are denied the pleasure of watching them race. But Mine that Bird will hopefully thrill us for years to come, as he did in his out-of-the-clouds performance in the Derby, his ballsy second in The Preakness, and his gut-check third in The Belmont.

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