Walter Pierce

re: Bo-Rail

by Walter Pierce

Calvin Borel’s decision to switch dates mid-dance has this wall flower in a funk.  This is what I know about horse racing: It’s nicknamed the “sport of kings”; horses race counter-clockwise around a track with diminutive humans on their backs; people wager money on the races; frou-frou hats. I’m certainly not a fan, but I am an interested onlooker during the late spring each year, at least for the couple of weeks between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. My interest soars if the same horse wins both, as Big Brown did last year, opening up the possibility that we’ll have a Triple Crown winner come the Belmont Stakes.

I also know this about horse racing: There hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Jimmy Carter was president, and my mom wouldn’t let me watch “Three’s Company.” Which is why jockey Calvin Borel’s decision to jump mounts between the Derby and the Preakness really sticks in my craw. Don’t get me wrong: Jack sharing an apartment with Chrissy and Janet in Santa Monica during the swingin’ ’70s was incredibly and undeniably un-Presbyterian. My mom’s church-lady proclivities I can understand. Borel’s caprice, on the other hand, I cannot.

It seems a violation of a basic tenet, if not of sport then certainly of something as fundamental as a rule imparted to horny adolescents at a Cotillion: Dance with the date you showed up with.

Yet my basic instinct is to pull for Calvin Borel. He’s a Cajun from Catahoula. He’s ebullient and effervescent and a host of other uptown modifiers that glow and sparkle and attract moths. But he should have stuck with Mine That Bird, the 50-1 longshot he piloted to a stunning win in the Derby using his patented and patently dangerous dash along the rail. It’s the reason he’s nicknamed “Bo-Rail” and has an Appalachian smile. It takes some cajones to guide 1,200 pounds of raging muscle through a crack in the thunder at 36 miles an hour. It’s easy to get one’s teeth knocked out. Calvin Borel has moxie. No question.

But Bo-Rail dumped his date mid dance and offered his card to filly Rachel Alexandra. She’s a phenom to be certain, and the cocksure Cajun made good his boasts and guided her to a win in the Preakness, but only by a length. And which horse ran a strong second? Mine That Bird, closing hard, all spite and spittle. Could Bo-Rail have guided the Derby winner to victory in the second leg of the Triple Crown? It certainly seems possible based on the win-place-show in the Preakness. But we’ll never know. And Rachel Alexandra’s win — a story worthy of a barrel of ink for its you-go-girl overtones — ensured that this year — yet again — the Triple Crown will not be had by a single horse; that something more rare and elusive than a perfect game in baseball shall remain so. But a triple crown of sorts can be had by a single jockey. Calvin Borel. Bo-Rail.

This leads me in a fidgety way to question his motives. Did our favorite son from St. Martin Parish place his own aspirations above the sport and the legion of fans and interested onlookers who long in these white-knuckle times for the rare to be realized? Surely there is talk of it in the journals that cater to horse racing’s aficionado class — and over Harvey Wallbangers at The Regal Beagle.