From match races at bush tracks in Cajun country to three Kentucky Derby wins to induction into racing’s Hall of Fame, no jockey worked harder than Calvin Borel.
The St. Martin Parish native won at Delta Downs in his home state of Louisiana. He’s won more races at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas than any other rider. He’s won more races at Churchill Downs than any other rider except Pat Day.
He won the Derby with 50-1 long shot Mine That Bird in 2009. He won the Preakness Stakes two weeks later with the great filly Rachel Alexandra. He won the Woodward Stakes with the star filly in the summer of ’09 at Saratoga Springs, a race that rocked the Spa like it’s never been rocked before.
And he took it all in with smiles, a few tears and a finger pointed skyward. His view many times came from the rail, where his daring rides along the inside of the track earned him the nickname “Bo-rail.”
On Wednesday, Borel called it a career, telling his agent Larry Melancon in a phone call “This is what I want to do. This is the end of it.”
The 49-year-old rider is based at Oaklawn Park, and officials at the Arkansas track said Borel was scheduled to ride seven horses over the next three days, but took off all his rides.
Former longtime agent and close friend Jerry Hissam said he talked to Borel, and “he said it was time. It was just time.”
Throughout the highs and lows that came with the business, Borel’s positive attitude made him a mentor in the jockey’s room.
“He worked as hard anybody I knew in this business, and he has faced the injuries about as well as anybody in this business,” Hissam said. “He’s just been an asset to the children in this business, and he’s been a public relations person for the business. All these years he was in the limelight, he was always welcome to sign something for somebody. He’s just one of the greatest people I’ve ever met.”
Borel was fearless and feisty, too. Like most jockeys, he suffered an assortment of injuries but always managed to climb back into the saddle. There also was his fight with fellow rider Javier Castellano in the winner’s circle after a 2010 Breeders’ Cup race. Borel cursed and threw punches, objecting to the way Castellano had ridden the race. Both riders were fined for the fight; Castellano was suspended six days for rough riding.
Borel also endured his share of injuries throughout his career, including a broken fibula after being thrown from his mount in a race at Keeneland in October 2013, an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Borel is the only jockey to win three Derbies in four years. He rode Street Sense to victory in 2007, won again with Mine That Bird and won the next year with Super Saver. After his win with Street Sense, he attended a state dinner at the White House and met President Bush and Queen Elizabeth II.
The Cajun won 5,146 races, according to Equibase, in a career that covered 33 years. The horses he rode earned more than $127 million. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2013.
More than just a rider, Borel was a fan favorite, especially with the kids.
“He felt a responsibility to provide a positive image to them and to let them know daily how much he appreciated them,” Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery said in a statement. “There have been few, if any, individuals quite like Calvin Borel in 142 years of history at Churchill Downs.”
In what turns out to be his final race, Borel finished fourth on Mud Light in last Saturday’s Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn. His final win was aboard Thrylos at Oaklawn on March 18.