No other track in North America has the endless backstretch and sweeping turns of Belmont Park. Its configuration and the Belmont Stakes' 1ÂÂ½-mile distance can fool jockeys into moving too early. Calvin Borel has been the king this spring but never has ridden in the Triple Crown finale. Might that inexperience compromise Mine That Bird's chances Saturday?
"That might affect other riders, but making premature moves isn't part of Calvin's makeup," Bailey said in a phone interview. "He's so patient that I don't think it's something you have to worry about.
"Calvin may not have been in the Belmont before, but he's ridden at Belmont Park enough times to know its nuances. It does help your comfort level to be a regular there, but if Mine That Bird gets beat, I don't think it will be because of Calvin getting impatient or because of the circumference of Belmont Park."
Todd Pletcher, who trains Dunkirk, expressed concern that Charitable Man will get an easy lead under Alan Garcia, who went wire to wire on 38-1 shot Da' Tara in last year's Belmont. Although Mine That Bird comes from far back, Bailey doesn't think a slow pace will hinder him.
"When the field is all spread out in a race as long as the Belmont, a dead closer can lose his punch chasing a fast pace," said Bailey, who won it on Hansel (1991) and Empire Maker (2003). "When a field is bunched up and the fractions aren't fast, a dead closer doesn't have to expend as much energy and make up as much ground. So I think a slow pace could actually help Calvin."
Borel could become the first jockey to sweep a Triple Crown on different horses, having won the Derby on Mine That Bird and the Preakness on the filly Rachel Alexandra. A Calvin Crown might rank with the Tiger Slam, in which Woods won the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA consecutively but not in the same calendar year. The 42-year-old Cajun put extra pressure on himself Monday by saying "We're going to win it, no questions asked."
Borel's last guarantee didn't pan out. The day before the 2007 Preakness, he said, "If Street Sense don't fall, there's no way he'll be gettin' beat." Curlin caught the Derby winner in the final strides and won by a nose.
"That's always dangerous," Bailey said. "But Calvin is an excitable guy who lets you know exactly how he feels, and that's what everybody loves about him.''
Bailey expects a strong effort from Dunkirk, who has trained well since a rough-trip 11th in the Derby. "I like his chances," he said. "I think the time off since then should really help. Dunkirk had to do a lot of racing in a short time before the Derby, and that probably caught up to him."
Longtime collaborators Pletcher and John Velazquez hope to duplicate what they did in the 2007 Belmont, when the filly Rags to Riches edged Curlin. Although he lacked 2-year-old experience, Dunkirk attracted a lot of buzz at Churchill Downs. Despite three solid workouts at Belmont, the son of Unbridled's Song out of Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Status isn't getting much attention this week.
"That's a mistake," Bailey said. "Look at his pedigree. He's built for this race."