ELMONT, N.Y. — He is one of the hottest jockeys in the nation. He has won four graded stakes races in the past four weeks and his mount in Saturday's Belmont Stakes is considered by many to be the most dangerous in the 10-horse field.
His name is not Calvin Borel.
Alan Garcia might not be as recognizable outside of racing circles as his Kentucky Derby- and Preakness-winning counterpart. But while Borel has soaked in the spotlight during this year's Triple Crown, the 23-year-old Garcia has nonchalantly been on a tear of his own that could culminate with him snagging his second classic win Saturday.
A year ago, Garcia produced one of the biggest upsets in Belmont history when he guided Da' Tara to victory, ending Big Brown's Triple Crown hopes along the way.
Not only is Garcia back in the Belmont this year aboard multiple graded stakes winner Charitable Man, but he comes into the 11/2-mile challenge with nearly as much momentum as any of his rivals.
During a seven-day span at the end of May, Garcia notched three graded stakes victories — winning the Grade II Vagrancy and Grade I Met Mile at Belmont on May 24 and 25 before heading to Woodbine to capture the Grade II Nassau Stakes on May 30.
Those efforts came after Garcia began his monthlong surge by booting Charitable Man to victory in the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes on May 9.
"He's riding very well," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who conditions Charitable Man and has teamed with Garcia since 2006. "Both he and (Borel) are in a bit of a zone, but maybe Calvin's zone is a little bigger because he won the first two legs of the Triple Crown. But Alan has been great in big races the last few weeks."
Since making the full-time move to New York in 2007, Garcia has been riding first call for McLaughlin and Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell operation — a partnership that helped earn him his first Breeders' Cup win aboard Lahudood in the Filly and Mare Turf two years ago and the Saratoga riding title in 2008.
"We like giving people an opportunity to prove themselves, and we have confidence in them that they can because they are good," Shadwell Manager Rick Nichols said of Garcia after his 2007 Breeders' Cup triumph.
With quick success can come inflated wallets and egos, trappings that have derailed many a promising jockey.
In Garcia, however, McLaughlin sees a rider who has been able to sidestep the pitfalls.
"He's a good kid and he works hard. He hasn't gone off track," McLaughlin said. "We were all 21, 22 years old at one time and if someone handed you a pocket full of money, it's hard not to go off track. But luckily Alan has stayed focused."
Borel is attempting to become the first jockey to sweep the Triple Crown on two different horses, but Garcia is seeking his own milestone Saturday.
Should Charitable Man capture the "Test of Champions," the good-natured Garcia would be the first to win the Belmont in consecutive years since Laffit Pincay Jr. won three straight from 1982-1984.
"I think it's important for his confidence level that he did win the race last year," McLaughlin said. "He's riding so well right now. He's just doing everything right."