Jockey Calvin Borel has won three of his last five Kentucky Derbys
The 45-year-old is hoping Take Charge Indy will put him close to all-time record
Borel, known for his emotional outbursts, is just 40 wins short of 5,000 in his career
Nicknamed "The Paint Stripper" for his distinctive rail-hugging style, Borel is a fan favorite
Jockey Calvin Borel has come from the small Louisiana town of St. Martinville to the summit of his profession – the winners’ enclosure at Churchill Downs.
“I was born to be a jockey,” says Borel in his distinctive Cajun drawl, speaking during a break in morning track work at the venue of this weekend’s Kentucky Derby. “Even before I knew I was going to be a jockey, I was.”
Borel’s father and brother both trained, and he grew up around horses. “In the deep, deep South, it’s mostly sugarcane, and fields and horses. That’s how people make their living,” he says.
At 45 years old, Borel is on the brink of racing immortality, having won three out of the last five Kentucky Derby races. In 2007 he triumphed on board Street Sense, in 2009 with Mine That Bird and the following year on Super Saver.
He is just 40 wins short of 5,000 career victories, and an induction into the Hall of Fame is surely beckoning. He has already been a guest at the White House, where he was hugged by then President George W. Bush after his first Kentucky crowning and where also met Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
Borel is one of the biggest personalities in horse racing. Easily given to displays of emotion, his feelings were laid bare for all to see three years ago after the most unlikely of his Kentucky Derby successes. Sent off at odds of 50-1, Mine That Bird was 20 lengths behind the leader at the halfway point.
“I was so far back, baby I couldn’t see the horses in front of me,” he recalls. “When we got to the 3/8 pole I put a squeeze on him to find me a little position and boy, he took me there! About six, seven horses we passed, quick. And I said, ‘Dang, I maybe can run second or third!’
“Then I finally found him some room and he really broke, I tell you. Out of all the horses I rode in the Derby he was the one with the most impressive finish I’ve ever had.”
Known for his distinctive, ground-saving style, the sight of Borel hugging the rail is so familiar that fans know him as “Calvin Bo-Rail,” while Kentucky Derby race caller Mark Johnson has nicknamed him “The Paint Stripper.”
This year he will be saving ground again, on the Patrick Byrnes-trained Take Charge Indy. The combination has already won the Florida Derby, and, with Borel up, the colt will surely start off among the favorites for Saturday’s “Run for the Roses.”
If Borel can capture a fourth Kentucky Derby, it will take him within one win of the all-time record by a jockey in America’s most iconic horse race. But his success has not come without some cost: six broken ribs, a broken arm, two broken legs and a broken jaw. And those are just the injuries Borel can remember.
“It has its ups and downs,” he concedes. “My wife keeps asking when I’m going to quit, but it’s worse than drugs!
“(The Kentucky Derby) is just like our Super Bowl. It comes but once a year. My dream was always to ride in it, much less win it. So I’ll be going into the race with a lot of confidence.”
With that he hops on to Take Charge Indy like a rubber band, the Paint Stripper doing what he does best.