An aging jockey trying to find his way again in the autumn of his career brought $19.60 long shot The Player home a winner Saturday in the $200,000, Grade II Hagyard Fayette Stakes. Calvin Borel, 50, warmed chilly Keeneland with his signature smile and by winning the race for some of his oldest friends on the track, the Bradley family of Frankfort.
Borel was also winning the stakes for his new son, Chase Clovis Borel, his first child who was born Sept. 27 to the jockey’s fiancée, Renay Falkner.
William “Buff” Bradley was wiping tears from his face after The Player wore down Neolithic (a $2.2 million winner), finishing 3 lengths ahead, with McCraken third in the 1 1/8-mile stakes. Kentucky Derby-winning Borel had not won a stakes at Keeneland since 2011 and quit riding unexpectedly in Arkansas in March 2016. He came out of retirement just as unexpectedly five months later at Ellis Park.
“Just to see him do it, thinking about my dad,” Bradley said about the combination of Borel and the 4-year-old colt that Bradley, his late father, Fred Bradley, and their longtime partner Carl Hurst bred at the Bradley farm in Frankfort. Fred Bradley, who died last year at age 85, was co-breeder of popular racing stars like Brass Hat and Groupie Doll.
Buff Bradley’s friendship with Borel goes back to 1991 and a stakes-winner named Free Spirit’s Joy that Borel rode for trainer Clarence Picou. Bradley was a young assistant trainer for Picou. Later, when Bradley had his own stable with homebreds like Brass Hat ($2 million winner) and Groupie Doll (two-time Eclipse Award winner), he enlisted his longtime friend, Borel, to ride those two.
It was only natural that when Borel quit race-riding he turned to Bradley.
“Calvin lived with us on the farm for a little bit in the summer, mowed some grass for us,” Bradley said. But he added, “I don’t think our zero-turn was going fast enough for him.”
As for The Player, Bradley said the winning race was rewarding because the stable had been trying to find the right distance for the horse. The Player, a son of Street Hero out of Hour Queen, had won at one mile and had been close at 1 1/16 miles but had never raced at the distance of the Fayette Stakes, 1 1/8 miles.
Six horses 3 years old and up went postward for the Fayette on a sloppy but sealed racetrack, with Honorable Duty holding down the favorite’s role. Neolithic was the predictable speed in the race and, true to form, Neolithic gained the lead in the first quarter-mile, maintaining his lead until the stretch.
The Player had stalked Neolithic the entire way, in second position, and began putting the pressure on Neolithic turning for home. With three-sixteenths of a mile remaining, The Player drew even with Neolithic and began to pull away from him with an eighth of a mile remaining. McCraken came from sixth position to gain third by the eighth pole.
When “they came to him he put in some effort,” jockey Robby Albarado said about Neolithic, “but he just got outrun today.”
The Player added $120,000 to lifetime earnings of $225,085. Bradley said they had been undecided whether to race the horse at this longer distance or give him a chance on turf. This race was the tipping point, indicating a clear direction to remain on dirt and attempt next the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Keeneland wrapped up its fall meet with attendance only 5,988 people off the record of 276,543 set a year ago. On-track betting this fall totaled $17,597,035, just short of last year’s $17,793,419.
Average daily on-track betting this fall was $1,035,120, just short of last year’s $1,046,672.
Average daily attendance of 15,915 was just short of the record 16,267 of last year. According to Keeneland, the high attendance was fueled by near-record crowds of 19,204 on opening day and 29,636 on Saturday, Oct. 14.
Winding up the meet winner of the close race for leading jockey was Ricardo Santana Jr. The race came down to a stretch duel between Santana Jr. and Albarado in the seventh race Saturday. Santana won that race by a head to claim his first Keeneland riding title.
Leading trainer was Michael Maker, with 13 wins. Multiple Eclipse Award winners Ken and Sarah Ramsey earned their 19th leading owner title.