LOUISVILLE — Trainer John Sadler's game plan when he saddled Hurricane Ike in the $200,000 Derby Trial at muddy Churchill Downs was simple: leave it up to jockey Calvin Borel.
"The strategy was go to with the jock's strategy," Sadler said. "I said (to Calvin) 'You know more about this place than I do, you do what you think is right.'"
Thanks to another rail-hugging ride that's become Borel's trademark at his home track, Hurricane Ike took control at the top of the stretch Saturday to beat Aikenite by 2¾ lengths and exact a bit of revenge on favorite Eightyfiveinafifty.
The two horses met three weeks ago in the Bay Shore at Aqueduct, with Eightyfiveinafifty winning by 2½ lengths. Borel admits he let Hurricane Ike get too relaxed early in the race.
This time he kept the 3-year-old colt a little closer to the front-running Eightyfiveinafifty, then roared past him when the leader tired.
"I just pushed him a little harder," said Borel, who won five races on the day.
Hurricane Ike was more than up to the challenge. He covered the one-turn mile over a sloppy track in 1:36.35 and paid $13.80 to win.
"He seems to be growing up a little bit now," owner Ike Thrash said. "His last two races have been great. I think he likes the dirt, or the mud. He's found his trip the last two times."
The horse looked plenty comfortable in the muck and gave Dawn and Ike Thrash their second big win of the month. The Thrashes also own Line of David, who qualified for the Kentucky Derby with a victory in the Arkansas Derby on April 10.
They didn't have quite as high hopes for Hurricane Ike, if only because the horse has struggled staying on task. He won his maiden race at Hollywood Park last July despite veering off course at the start.
"He's always been a little bit of an odd duck," Ike Thrash said.
Borel had better luck keeping him in line on Saturday. He put Hurricane Ike just off Eightyfiveinafifty's shoulder until the turn, then darted inside where the track was slightly firmer. They cruised to the wire with plenty left in the tank.
"It took me maybe a race to get to know him," Borel said. "He's a gutsy little horse and I think he's just starting to come around."
Eightyfiveinafifty and Pleasant Prince entered the race hoping to qualify for the Kentucky Derby with a win, a common practice years ago but one that's been abandoned recently.
Given the way Eightyfiveinafifty struggled going a mile, it's doubtful he could have handled the 1¼-mile Derby even if he had held on.
"It seems to me like the distance might be stretching it a little bit," said Eightyfiveinafifty's jockey Ramon Dominguez. "The surface today probably wasn't the best for him. He didn't seem to care for it too much."
The $46,056 payday for finishing second vaulted Aikenite into the top 20 in graded stakes earnings, meaning he could run in the Derby. But trainer Todd Pletcher said it's unlikely he'll send the horse back out in a week's time.
Pleasant Prince rallied late under Julien Leparoux to finish third but couldn't give owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey a second Derby starter. They'll send Lane's End winner Dean's Kitten into the Derby.