It’s been a very good couple of weeks for Calvin Borel. First, on February 27, he learned that he was one of ten finalists vying for four spots to get into racing’s Hall of Fame. Then on March 7, a victory aboard Hezunusal in a maiden claiming event for Arkansas-breds meant the 46-year-old had reached a career milestone. His 5,000th career victory places in a very elite fraternity in which only two dozen other riders belong. Finally, on Saturday, it was vintage Calvin Borel. Doing what he does best, Borel guided his mount, Rose to Gold to the lead, and the rail, and booted her all the way home to an impressive victory in the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Not only did the picture perfect ride aboard Rose to Gold give Borel victory #5,001, but it also gives him a legitimate contender for the $1 million Kentucky Oaks in 7 ½ weeks. But going into the race, most eyes were on the electrifying winner of a maiden at Churchill, and an allowance at Gulfstream, Flashy Gray.
Despite the fact that Flashy Gray had yet to face stakes company, while Rose to Gold already had three stakes win to her credit, the inexperienced filly was made an overwhelming 2-5 favorite in the field of eight. Enter Calvin Borel.
Known for his ability to save ground riding the rails, as well as, saving a little something extra for the stretch run, Borel took advantage from a quick break out of the gate from his inside post position. Getting the jump on the heavy favorite, horse and rider were more than happy to grab the front running spot while skimming the paint.
“We had planned on sitting right off the pace, but she broke so sharp,” said Borel.
The 5-1 shot and Borel proceeded to set solid but sensible fractions of :23 3/5 and :47 3/5, with Mike Smith and Flashy Gray played the waiting game from second. At the top of the lane, Smith asked his charge to go, and she did, but to no avail. Playing a Louisiana brand of possum that he has done so many times before, Borel shook the reigns, and Rose to Gold responded powerfully. Flashy Gray kept trying as the two fillies left the third place finisher more than ten lengths farther back in third, but there was no catching Borel and Rose to Gold. They reached the wire 2 ¾ lengths in front and stopped the timer in just a shade over 1:45 for the 1 1/16 mile trip.
“She has a lot of wind. She took it to them. That other one (Flashy Gray) is a nice filly. I had seen her races. Mike (Smith) tried to come to me at the 3/8ths pole, but my filly pulled away." said Borel. "I knew we would be double tough. She came home strong.”
Rose to Gold did come home strong, but the filly gets only part of the credit for this one. It was a masterful job of race riding from Borel. The pair should now stick together, and trainer Sal Santoro said he has not yet decided whats’ next. The daughter of Friends Lake will either come back to Oaklawn for the $400,000 Fantasy on April 10, or just train right up to the Oaks back at her home base of Calder.
As for Flashy Gray, it was her first stakes race, and her first race around two-turns. I still like her a lot, and still expect to see her as a factor in the Kentucky Oaks. On Saturday, she just ran into another really good filly that was ridden to absolute perfection.