But let me tell you, brother, it was a long, long road.
For much of his career, it wasn’t uncommon for him to win two, three, four races on a card. Javier Castellano just won five a few days ago thanks to Fort Larned diving worse than a soccer player. Borel notched win 4,999aboard Malibu High on December 21, 2012 at Fair Grounds. It took him 76 days to get the monkey off his back.
The trainer of Malibu High is none other than Cecil Borel, Calvin’s older brother. Cecil brought Calvin along, practically raised him, and put him on any number of horses to help Boo-Boo (Calvin’s nickname) make a name, get his start, set the stage. Not only that, but Malibu High is owned by Clifford and Mary K. Glum, long time supporters of the Borels.
As much as they wanted to get No. 5,000 at Churchill Downs, it wasn’t going to happen, pending some serious disaster, of course, that would have delayed his bid until May of 2013.
2012 and early 2013 wasn’t kind to Calvin. Once he got win 4,999, he suffered a mishap during training hours at Oaklawn, fell off a horse, and broke his wrist. Six Weeks in Rehab starting January 8.
That was merely the physical. Most of 2012 saw his agent Jerry Hissam deal with heart issues. He ultimately had open-heart surgery in December, just as Calvin made the push toward 5,000. Everything funnels through Hissam. The pair have been winning races, winning Derbies, winning Horse of the Year, for 22 years, back when the U.S.A. was in Gulf War I.
Imagine shouldering that kind of burden and then breaking a wrist? And what if a girl you liked got really sick?
Rachel Alexandra delivered her 140-pound Bernardini filly on February 12, 2013. No problems, until there was a problem that sent the social media world orbiting horse racing into a collective vigil when it surfaced that Rachel Alexandra was sick. Very sick.
It was a tough birth and she was off her feed soon thereafter. A bacterial infection surfaced in a section of her colon, which had lost its blood supply.
“[That] led to compromising the integrity of the intestinal wall, which led to bacteria gaining access to the cavity,” Dr. Brett Woodie told DRF at the time.
The doctors removed the injured portion and connected the loose ends. But this isn’t exactly soldering wires or connecting PVC. The colon has a lot of bacteria—some good and bad—but that needs to be harbored within. Her condition was “very serious”.
Hissam has come around and so too has Rachel Alexandra, at least to date. Which allowed Calvin to focus on what he does best: ride horses. The watch was for him to win No. 5,000 was on. It took several mounts, but on March 7, he finally turned loose on the 9-2 Father Steve to win by four lengths.
Win No. 5,001? Nailed it in the Honeybee Stakes aboard Rose to Gold and earned 50 points toward the Kentucky Oaks. He won gate-to-wire, a Borel specialty. And this guy knows a thing or two about riding a filly in the Oaks.
Now, with 5,000 in the rear view, Borel takes aim at the Hall of Fame, for which he's been nominated twice. If I had a vote—and only one—it’d go right on the nose of Calvin Borel.
The past year has been tough on this Cajun fella and it's about time things got a little easier for a man who's never had anything handed to him. It’s time to reward this guy for his commitment to, and love for, the grand ol’ game.