BALTIMORE — Calvin Borel was mowing his yard. Back in Louisville.
It was 9:45 Friday morning, and we media members were in Pimlico vice president Mike Gathagan's office waiting to hear Borel via speakerphone. His fiancee said she would go get him. Calvin was mowing the yard.
Joke: Was he only mowing right along the fence?
But then that's Calvin. Tuesday he's in Hollywood doing the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Thursday, he's riding eight races at Churchill. Friday, he's mowing his own yard.
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Saturday, he's atop the filly Rachel Alexandra, becoming the first jockey in Triple Crown history to jump off the Kentucky Derby winner onto another horse for the Preakness.
No big deal.
"I wasn't going to go back on my word," Borel said Friday via that speakerphone.
Simple as that.
Is this the most bizarre Preakness ever, or what?
There was Borel's replacement, Mike Smith, having just flown in on the red eye from California on Thursday night, to take the Derby mount on Mine That Bird for Saturday's running of the middle leg of the Triple Crown.
Question to Smith: With everyone raving about Borel's rail-squeezing ride in the Derby, are you feeling any added pressure?
Smith: "None whatsoever."
Meanwhile, Borel said that when he arrives at the Pimlico barns, as a favor to Mine That Bird's trainer, Chip Woolley, he'll give Smith a scouting report on The Bird.
"But Mike's a great rider," said Borel. "It's going to be kind of hard for me to tell him how to ride a horse. He's no dummy."
Some might ask if Borel is making the smart move. Every jock would kill to ride the Derby winner. And then to give one up? Yet Borel insists Rachel Alexandra is a once-in-lifetime horse, not just a filly. He admitted he was scared when news came last week that wine king Jess Jackson had purchased Rachel and was pointing the Oaks winner for Baltimore.
"But then Mr. Jackson's wife told me, 'She's yours as long as you want to ride her,'" said Borel, who decided, yes, he wanted to ride her.
That was fine with Woolley. Sure, the trainer would love to have kept Borel.
"He's a big reason we won the Derby," Woolley said Friday morning. "But you've got to get over that."
And Borel meant no disrespect to "Lil' Bird," who he said reminded him of Street Sense.
But the jockey was honest from day one. He told Woolley if there was ever a conflict, Borel was taking Rachel.
"It came down to he's won five in a row on that mare," said Woolley.
Can Mine That Bird make it two in a row? Most think not. Morning line pegged the son of Birdstone as the co-third choice, which Woolley said he predicted prior to the draw.
When someone asked the trainer if his horse was getting enough respect, Woolley said, "To me, Pioneerof the Nile is the horse not getting enough respect."
"The Derby is like what Ricky Bobby said in Talladega Nights," said Bob Baffert, Pioneer's trainer. "If you're not first, then you're last. The Derby is the one race where no one cares who finished second."
Especially when in this race you have, for the first time in Preakness history, the horse that finished first in the Kentucky Oaks facing the horse that finished first in the Kentucky Derby.
And the jockey who won the Derby is riding the horse that won the Oaks.
"He'd have to run the race of his life to beat my filly," said Borel of Mine That Bird. "I think the whole (12) other horses would have to run the race of their life, or me fall off or something stupid happen."
And then Calvin went back to mowing his yard.