Horse Racing

Garry Jones/AP
Jockey Calvin Borel rides Rachel Alexandra to victory in the 134th running of the
Preakness Stakes.

Calvin Borel Rises From Louisiana Bush Tracks to Pinnacle of Horse Racing

May 18, 2009 08:00 PM
by Denis Cummings
Calvin Borel, who began riding racehorses at age 8 and dropped out of eighth grade to become a jockey, could become the first rider to win the Triple Crown on different horses.

Borel Could Win Triple Crown on Different Horses

Horse racing will have to wait at least another year for a horse to win the Triple Crown, but it could see a Triple Crown jockey this year. Calvin Borel won Saturday’s Preakness Stakes aboard filly Rachel Alexandra, two weeks after brilliantly guiding Mine That Bird to a shocking victory in the Kentucky Derby. He now has the chance to become the first jockey to win the three races comprising the Triple Crown aboard different horses.

Borel has already made history this month, becoming the first jockey to jump off a Kentucky Derby winner for a different horse in the Preakness. Having won the Kentucky Oaks, Kentucky Derby (for the second time in three years) and Preakness, Borel is the most celebrated and sought-after jockey of 2009.

It hasn’t always been like that for the 42-year-old Borel, who has spent most of his 25-year racing career out of the spotlight. He won his first Grade I stakes race in 2006, and the following year he won the Kentucky Derby, a victory that earned him the admiration of President George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth II.

With a thick Cajun accent, upbeat attitude and inspiring life story, Borel has become one of racing’s most popular figures. Though he is now something of a celebrity—he appeared last week on the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno—and has made millions of dollars, Borel has maintained the humility and work ethic he’s shown his entire career.

He still helps his brother Cecil, a Kentucky-based trainer, clean stalls, something he’s done for 30 years. He has also taken little time off to celebrate major victories; the day after the Preakness, he returned to Churchill Downs and won a $7,500 claiming race. “These are the horses that got me here,” he said to The Associated Press.

Borel’s mount for the Triple Crown’s third jewel is yet to be determined. He is committed to Rachel Alexandra, but her owners are still deciding whether to run her for the third time in seven weeks. Borel could end up back on Mine That Bird, whose jockey in the Preakness, Mike Smith, will be racing in Hollywood that day, reports the Daily Racing Form.

Biography: Calvin Borel

Borel was raised on a sugarcane farm in Martin Parish, La., in the heart of Cajun country. The youngest of five children, Calvin was born 12 years after the fourth child and given the nickname “Boo-Boo” because his conception was unintended.

His father, Clovis, and brothers trained and raced quarter horses on the Louisiana bush tracks, and Calvin began riding in races when he was 8. “I wanted to ride,” he said to Louisiana Life magazine. “I knew from day one, maybe when I was 4 or 5. I wanted to be a jockey.”

“He was just one of those special boys that when he got on the horse, something special happened,” said Virgil “Yu Yu” Blanchard, a local trainer, to The Advertiser (Lafayette, La.). “He was just a natural.”

He dropped out of eighth grade to move in with his brother Cecil, who was working as a trainer at Delta Downs. Borel still doesn’t read or write well, but—contrary to a 2007 article in the Daily Racing Form—he is not illiterate, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Calvin did stable work for his brother, who was like a “second dad” according to Calvin, and became a professional jockey at the age of 16. Soon after, however, his riding career nearly ended during a race at Evangeline Downs.

“Horse broke down, threw him (into a light post along the fence),” describes friend Dale Barras to The Advertiser. “Lost his spleen, lost a rib … they say he was in and out of a coma … But his first race back, about eight months later, Cecil puts him right back on the same horse and he wins.”

Cecil also taught Calvin the strategy that he is now famous for. After Calvin lost a race making a wide move, Cecil told him to walk the horse around the barn. As Calvin circled, Cecil lined up barrels, forcing Calvin to make wider turns; Cecil then told him that the shortest trip around the track is on the inside. Since then, Calvin has always tried to ride his mounts near the rail, earning him the nickname “Calvin Bo-rail.”

Borel moved on to race at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park and Kentucky’s Churchill Downs. In 1995 he was the top jockey at Oaklawn, unseating Hall of Famer Pat Day, who had won every meet since 1982. He remained under the radar until 2006 when he rode Street Sense to a 10-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The following spring he guided Street Sense to victory at the Kentucky Derby and became an instant celebrity.

His victory earned him an invitation to a White House dinner honoring Queen Elizabeth II, who had attended the Derby. “I shook hands with the president and the queen,” he told Louisiana Life. “They both congratulated me and wished me success. I went to shake his hand after and he gave me a hug. It was a great, great honor.”

Reference: Race replays


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