(Edited press release)
With firm knowledge that the Preakness (gr. I)-winning filly Rachel Alexandra would pass on a possible run in the third jewel of the Triple Crown, trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr. and jockey Calvin Borel are both enthusiastically looking forward to the June 6 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and a bid to take two-thirds of the crown with Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner and Preakness runner-up Mine That Bird.
Owner Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stable, co-owner of Rachel Alexandra with Harold McCormick, announced Friday afternoon via press release that the winner of the Preakness and the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) would skip the Belmont Stakes at New York’s Belmont Park.
Jackson’s statement said that the filly was “healthy,” but “deserves a well-earned vacation.” Jackson’s statement freed Borel, who had ridden Mine That Bird to victory in the Kentucky Derby but chose to ride Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, to return to the saddle aboard the Derby winner for the 1 1/2-mile race.
Woolley was signing autographs in a gift shop Churchill Downs and Borel was riding at the Louisville track when each received the news. Woolley got a personal telephone call from Jackson, while the news was relayed to Borel by agent Jerry Hissam after he talked by telephone with Jackson.
“It showed a lot of class on Mr. Jackson’s part,” said Woolley. “We really appreciate him letting us known and letting us make our decision. Now we’re just looking forward to going on to the Belmont.”
“Whatever Mr. Jackson wanted to do, I was a 110% behind,” said Borel. “But I think he did the right call. I think Mr. Jackson is all about the horse, not the races. It’s not money–it’s his horse. I think he has more confidence in his horse and he wants to keep her safe and make sure she’s healthy and everything. She ran hard the other day. She struggled a lot, like I said when I come back (from the Preakness). I think he did it for the horse.”
Woolley said the call from Jackson was not a complete surprise. He thought there was a chance the Steve Asmussen-trained Rachel Alexandra would pass on the Belmont.
“You know it’s grueling to put these races back-to-back,” said Woolley. ”She ran one day earlier than I did in the Derby, but it’s hard to put these races back-to-back and even harder on a filly. So that really didn’t surprise me and it’s one reason I’ve held out for Calvin, thinking possibly that she might not run.”
Borel worked Mine That Bird last Monday and said he was very happy with the effort by the Kentucky Derby winner. He will be the saddle again when Mine That Bird has his final pre-Belmont work on Monday.
“With three races back-to-back like that, you just want him to go into the race happy and I think Chip’s got him happy,” Said Borel. “So we’re to hope for the best and have a good trip and, like I said, I want to thank them for putting me back on the colt and giving me this much time, and thank Mr. Jackson for announcing it today.”
Woolley said the gelding by Birdstone would work after the break for track maintenance June 1. Mine That Bird is scheduled to fly to New York June 3.
The following are interviews with trainer Chip Woolley and jockey Calvin Borel following the announcement that Rachel Alexandra would not run in the Belmont Stakes:
Chip Woolley—trainer of Mine That Bird
Q: Let’s talk about your horse and having Calvin back in the saddle for the Belmont…
“You know, we’re tickled with that. Calvin’s done us a great job. He won us a Derby and we were committed to letting him ride for us, if possible. So we’re really glad to have him back.”
Q: Was it a relief to get the call today…would it have mattered to wait three or four more days?
“It wouldn’t really have mattered to wait two or three more days. One thing that was for sure was the people that were open today would have been open in two or three days. So, that wasn’t so much of a problem. We’re just tickled to have Calvin and tickled to have this behind us and move on to the Belmont.”
Q: Your horse just seems to look better and better in the mornings…
“You bet. He’s looking super. I actually thought this morning (May 29) was probably the best day he’s had on the racetrack since he’s been here. We’re real tickled with him. He’s just marchin’ around there and feelin’ good.”
Q: You still plan to work him Monday after the maintenance break?
“We’ll work him after the break on Monday, then we’ll ship him Wednesday on an airplane to Belmont. Calvin will work him Monday right after the break.”
Calvin Borel—jockey on Mine That Bird
Q: How did you get the news?
“Jerry was the one that told me. Mr. Jackson got in touch with him. First of all, I want to thank Chip and the owners of Mine That Bird for hanging in there. I want to thank Mr. Jackson for coming out as soon as he did, because I didn’t think we’d get an answer until next Monday and I probably would have sat out the race. I just want to thank Mr. Jackson for coming out as early as he did with the announcement, and thank Chip and the owners for an opportunity to ride the colt back. We’re gonna get the job done.”
Q: You had said before that you would like to ride Mine That Bird…did you think you’d be able to do it again?
“It was just a matter of timing. Chip loves the way I fit the colt. I couldn’t see why he wouldn’t let me ride the colt back, because I fit him a hundred and ten percent. I love the filly–she’s the greatest thing in the world, I think. And I just want to thank Mr. Jackson for making the decision this early so I can give chip an answer at the right time.”
Q: What about Mine That Bird in the Belmont–it’s a different kind of race—1 ½ miles, big turns, a big racetrack…
“I’m just going to ride it like it comes up, you know. It’s nothing different–just turn left when you get in the turns. It’s like any other racetrack. I’ll tell you what, the colt worked really good the other morning. I was very happy with his work. I worked him real easy and he was bouncin’–he was a happy camper. That’s all you want. With three races back-to-back like that, you just want him to go into the race happy and I think Chip’s got him happy. So we’re to hope for the best and have a good trip and, like I said, I want to thank them for putting me back on the colt and giving me this much time, and thank Mr. Jackson for announcing it today.”
Q: Was it a relief to get the call yesterday?:
“It was a big relief. You know, for Chip and them, to let them know because they sat chilly. They’ve been good to me and I’ve just got to thank ‘em again.”