The Triple Crown trail beckoned last year, and Beau Greely traveled down it with Borrego. After leaving their home base of California, they made stops in Louisiana and Arkansas, before moving on to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. But the journey ended there, before going to Belmont Park.
A year later, they have arrived.
When 2005 dawned, Greely - who trains, co-owns, and is one of the breeders of Borrego - decided to have a travel schedule opposite of last year. He and Borrego would stay home in California the entire year until the fall, then go to New York. The result is that Borrego is thriving as he nears his biggest race of the year, the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 29 at Belmont Park. He comes off successive victories in $1 million races, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
"I'm pretty excited," Greely said from New York. "It's a good spot to be in. It's one of the things you dream about as a kid."
Borrego, 4, always has raced with the best of the division. He was second in the Louisiana Derby to Wimbledon, second to Smarty Jones in the Arkansas Derby, third to Rock Hard Ten in the Santa Anita Handicap, and second to Lava Man in the Hollywood Gold Cup. He also was second in the Super Derby, Sham Stakes, and El Cajon Stakes, and third in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap. When he came into the Pacific Classic, he had placed in stakes races eight times, but had never won a stakes race. He had three wins - against maidens and twice in allowance company - from 17 starts. He was widely perceived as an underachiever.
Not any more. As good as he ran in the Pacific Classic, Borrego took it to another level in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, inhaling his rivals and winning under wraps.
"That race was special," Greely said. "It wasn't just a Breeders' Cup prep. It's a huge race on its own, especially with a horse you want to be a stallion. He was doing that well, but he fooled me, in a good way.
"I always knew he was that good. I just wondered when he'd show it," Greely said. "He'd never run a bad race against a good horse. I'm not bragging. It's not like I did a great training job. It's just that the horse came into his own. He matured, and got better."
In fact, Borrego may have been an overachiever last year. Greely, 34, has been training on his own for eight years, but is an old soul. He comes from a prominent Kentucky family and worked as an assistant to Richard Mandella. Patience, at least in terms of training, was drilled into him. Since Borrego was a May foal and didn't even have his actual third birthday until after the Preakness, Greely never set out to turn him into a Triple Crown contender. Borrego just kept taking the necessary steps, and Greely kept going along for the ride until it became apparent, after the Preakness, that Borrego was not quite ready for prime time.
"I think the others in front of him were just a little better in terms of ability at that time, and they were a little more mature age-wise," Greely said.
After failing to win in eight starts last year, Borrego has won three times in seven starts this year and has finished out of the money just once. Staying at home the first nine months of the year has left Borrego, a son of El Prado, fresh for his late-season objectives.
"There was no need to travel. It's just more stress on a horse," Greely said. "And when you have a handicap horse in California, why leave unless you're dodging someone? He ran in the Big 'Cap, the Gold Cup, the preps for those races. And he was right there."
Now, Greely is just marking time until the Classic. He had scheduled a work for Wednesday at Belmont, but scratched that because of the wet weather. It's a minor inconvenience. Borrego has never been a fancy work horse, and considering he has raced all year and just won over the track, it's not like Greely is playing catch up. No, the management of Borrego the first nine months of the year is paying dividends now.
"I could not be happier," Greely said.