Cajun jockey wins derby
Calvin H. Borel born in St. Martinville, La, on Nov. 7, 1966 rode the victorious mount Mine That Bird in this weekend’s 2009 Kentucky Derby. Over a 25 year career, Borel has become known for his tireless work ethic as well as an ability to slip up the rail to save ground; his colleagues and racing fans therefore frequently refer to him as Calvin ‘Borail.’
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Borel began riding at the age of eight at the Evangeline Downs track in Carencro, La. He has always been known for his Cajun accent and bubbly personality, both of which were on full display at the Derby.
His father, Clovis, was a sugar-cane farmer. When the family was away from the fields, they went to the match races at the bush tracks that have been the stepping stone of many great Louisiana jockeys including Robby Albarado. Borel was one of them.
They used to tie chickens to the tails of some horses to make them run faster. At the end of the quarter-horse races, the riders would not even make an effort to pull up their mounts; they just jumped off.
As true with most humble beginnings, Borel literally worked day and night, mucking stalls and working horses to pay his dues.
Calvin began his professional riding career at Delta Downs race track in Vinton, La. and carried riding titles at this establishment from 1985 through 1987.
These days, Borel is no stranger to the spotlight. His first significant career win came in the 2007 Kentucky Derby aboard Street Sense.
In that race, he guided the colt to a two and a quarter length victory and then to a close second place finish in the Preakness Stakes.
This year’s Derby saw Borel on Mine That Bird as a 50 to one long shot. As the upcoming Derby race approached, he voiced his wavering faith in the ability of Mine That Bird to be a true contender. With an extensive knowledge of the industry including his start at racing in the bush tracks near his hometown, Borel was more than shocked at the win.
Mine That Bird achieved the second largest upset in the Derby’s 135 year history when he prevailed by six and three quarter lengths against runner-up, Pioneer Of The Nile on Saturday. A gelding purchased for only $9,500 in late 2007, Mine That Bird was lead by Borel to a masterful ride on a sloppy track that put an end to Pioneer Of The Nile’s four race winning streak.
It is currently unclear whether trainer Bennie Woolley Jr. will send the winning mount on to race in the Preakness competition that is scheduled for May 16. If he skips the Triple Crown’s middle race, he will be heading to the Belmont Stakes that is set for June. It is believed that the Belmont race would better suit the racing stamina of the gelding who was sired by 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone.
The Preakness may be passed on because of the speed-biased type racing that would not be as easily achieved by Mine That Bird.
Although Derby winners typically go on to race the Preakness, only about 60 percent of them have won over the past decade.
Having never before run in a Grade 1 stakes, it seems nearly miraculous that Mine That Bird came away with a victory worth more than $1.4 million. In a telling set of events, trainer Woolley, and co-owners Mark Allen and Leonard Blach did not place a bet on him. The $103.20 win payout however was the second largest in Derby history only shadowed by a 1913 return of $184.90 on Donerail.
The Kentucky Derby proved to be a cavalcade of upsets and excitement combined with Cajun determination and hard work. During the recent race, Mine That Bird got squeezed coming out of the starting gate, but Borel took a firm hold and wrestled the horse to the rail while still struggling in last place.
They remained at the inside position through the entire race, except for a key late move around a horse in their path. Moving up to 12th after a mile, with barely 1/4 mile left, Borel spotted an opening in the stretch and urged the gelding through a tight spot inside of two other horses.
Once free, the small Mine That Bird quickly accelerated toward an improbable victory.
Borel became the first jockey since 1993 to complete the double run of the Kentucky Oaks then Kentucky Derby races, having ridden Rachel Alexandra to an astounding victory at the Oaks on the previous day.
Borel currently lives in Louisville, Ky. with his fiancée, Lisa Funk.
Like most die hard workers in the racing arena, he will be heading right back to work. Even after winning the coveted roses, guys like Borel keep looking to the future. Now the outlook may be tinged with a good deal of pride and a bit more optimism.