SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September, 3, 2009--For Calvin Borel, life, as he knows it now, began at 40. That’s what winning the Kentucky Derby does for people in the thoroughbred world.

But that’s not what has made Borel “America’s Jockey,” something he never believed possible. Why would he think differently from everybody else who loves the game?

And make no mistake; Borel loves this game. So much so that after completing the eighth grade, he gave up the idea of doing anything else with his life.

Winning the Derby doesn’t automatically make you America’s Jockey. It only makes you famous and gets you about half way into the Hall of Fame. Rather, it was how he won the Derby aboard Street Sense two years ago.

Borel rewarded the faith of regular client Carl Nafzger by delivering an impossibly perfect performance, coming from 19th of 20 to finish first after first avoiding every conceivable straw in his path.

There was much praise and hoopla, and a White House visit in a rented tuxedo. You know it was rented because after winning the Derby Borel had to borrow a suit from fellow Cajun Robby Albarado so he could arrive in Baltimore in style.

As it turned out, what Albarado gave he also, in another sense, took away. Coming again, Albarado’s mount out-bobbed Borel’s, winning the Preakness on a horse called Curlin.

But after getting and retaining the mount on Rachel Alexandra this year, perhaps Borel one-upped his good friend after all. Although as Curlin’s rider, he might only be a phone call away from replacing his good friend one day.

This year, in storybook fashion, he inherited the mount on a 50-1 Derby longshot and, wouldn’t you know it? He won another Derby, one day after he was the passenger aboard Rachel Alexandra when she won the Oaks by 20-plus.

Depending on the future exploits of Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird, the first weekend in May of 2009 could be recalled as the most significant weekend any jockey has ever had.

If Street Sense and 5,000 winners got one foot in the door of the building across the street from Saratoga Race Course, his performance on Mine That Bird absolutely sealed the Hall of Fame deal.

Borel’s ride aboard Street Sense was college text-book smart. His performance on Mine That Bird was all that and death defying, too.

There’s probably still a dent in the rail near the eighth pole at Churchill Downs where he and his mud-loving gelding met an immovable object and still continued on their way to glory.

And that was after dropping way back to the back of the pack before making his run. That took as much guts as the ride itself. No one would have seen any of it if not for a sky-cam that caught it all.

The Horatio Alger aspects of Calvin Borel’s ascendancy to the top of the jockey Q-rating world notwithstanding, it was his reaction in the immediate aftermath of victory that has endeared him to all manner of racing fans.

And handicappers were not immune to the moment, some with tears streaking down their cheeks, too. It was impossible not to get swept up in the wave of human, guileless emotion. America’s Race does that to people.

More than anything, it’s been Borel’s partnership with one of the great contemporary fillies of history, perhaps without peer when her career days end and someone calls her the Secretariat of fillies.

Her subsequent Mother Goose was the equal of the Oaks; her subsequent Haskell the equal of the Preakness. And who knows what Saturday afternoon at 5:52 EDT will bring for Calvin Borel?

A favorable result would further his legend but won’t allow the dropout to forget the jobs that need doing around his brother Cecil’s barn every day. The person who impresses Borel the least is himself.

Borel has spent his Saratoga on a “working vacation,” as he and agent Jerry Hissam call it. He probably would have liked a few more rides but between the deepest Saratoga jockey colony in years, and local trainers fearing to incur their displeasure down the road, Borel’s talents have not at all been in demand.

Consequently, Borel’s been doing some fishing, canoeing and swimming, the latter exercise allowing him to stay fit. The regimen doesn’t stray far from his normal summer routine, taking time off between Churchill meets.

Obviously, Borel’s here because the filly’s here, and who could blame him? Every ride aboard her elevates him. And his confidence and horsemanship continues to elevate her.
Scott Blasi Has The Halter But Steve Asmussen Has Rachel's Ear
Scott Blasi Has The Halter But Steve Asmussen Has Rachel's Ear
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Steve Asmussen has said that Borel fits the filly well because he "lets Rachel be Rachel." Borel says he learned that the very first day. “As long as she's got them ears [wiggling] I'm happy. I don't care how fast she goes."

With a lone victory at the meet, Borel’s had plenty of time to tend to other matters, like marrying long time fiancée Lisa Funk. But that rumor lasted less than 24 hours. Borel and Lisa were not married. Why?

Well--and this is no vaudeville joke--he said they should have been married in Kentucky. “We were supposed to get married before we came up here,” he told the Albany Times-Union, “but then I had to get a damn root canal.”

Rim shot, please.

With the Woodward two days away, it’s all over but the waiting for Borel.

Schooled in the paddock prior to today’s fifth race, Rachel Alexandra drew a huge crowd, with fans lining the wooden fences as if waiting for the Travers horses to appear all over again.
Summer Bird and Tim Ice Get a Better Look at the Competition
Summer Bird and Tim Ice Get a Better Look at the Competition
Photo by: Toni Pricci

Even Travers winner Mine That Bird walked across the street from his stakes barn home to see what all the fuss was about with trainer Tim Ice on the other end of the halter.

With conflicting race schedules Borel was forced to choose between Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra and he chose the filly, “the best horse I ever rode.”

Now that there are no more conflicts this year, Chip Woolley has given Borel back two rides on his Derby winner, Santa Anita’s Goodwood and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

And the dream season for America’s Jockey lives on.

He’ll be at the barn the next two mornings to make sure. “I just wanted to be around her,” Borel said of his sojourn to Saratoga. "Them horses don't come around often."

Not even for America’s Jockey.