Louisiana native, three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel retires _lowres

Calvin Borel rides Mine That Bird to a victory in the 135th Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 2, 2009, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Today is the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby. For many casual sports fans it is the one day a year to watch horse racing presented in full pageantry, pomp and circumstance.

For others, the so-called “best two minutes in sports” is simply a good reason to attend a Derby party, drink a mint julep or wear a fancy hat.

For this writer, the Derby checks all of those boxes and more.

Yes, I’m a gambler and I view the betting action on the Derby as an annual opportunity to make a large score at the

betting windows.

Like a stock broker who toils for weeks to predict the future profits of a particular company, I start my study of the Derby runners months in advance. I may not be right today, but I know that over the course of the past 40 years I’ve shown a profit predicting the outcome of the Derby.

I’ve made a few nice scores. The most memorable was 1986 when as an upstart novice handicapper I correctly predicted long shot Ferdinand would win the Derby at 20-1.

The look of pride and joy on my father’s face as Ferdinand slipped through a narrow opening only Hall of Fame jockey Willie Shoemaker could see during his stretch run to victory is one of my most treasured.

The bold selection gave me the confidence to pursue a path less traveled by working to become an expert in horse racing. Nearly 25 years later, after a lot of losses but luckily a few more wins, the path presented a pot of gold as I won the National Handicapping Championship, $1 million and the Eclipse award to boot.

Ferdinand’s win left another indelible mark on my future. After an unsuccessful career at stud, Ferdinand was shipped to Japan where he was ultimately slaughtered after a continued failure as a stud.

Until that time I had taken for granted the horses that had provided me hours of entertainment and enjoyment. Today, most of my work in horse racing is spent making sure thoroughbreds receive the care they deserve after their racing careers are over.

But, above all else, Derby Day is the day I recall the dozens of trips I made to the Kentucky Derby with my father. For 25 years our Baton Rouge group of degenerate Derby fans made the annual trek to Louisville, Kentucky, for the Derby.

As a younger man, I had little appreciation for the special moments we shared until the trips stopped after my father died — moments no different than other kids experienced when their dads take them to an LSU game or a major sporting event.

So today when the 20 horses parade on the track in the minutes before the starting gate opens, I think back on those occasions to lift a mint julep, sing My Old Kentucky Home, think of my father and be thankful for how lucky I was to fall in love with the sport of horse racing.