Ride of his life takes Borel all the way to White House
BALTIMORE — Two weeks ago, we didn’t know Calvin Borel from Calvin Klein. Today, he will be the straw that stirs all those Black-Eyed Susans served here at the Preakness.
Borel is a 111-pound jockey who has become the 800-pound gorilla this Triple Crown horse racing season.
The horses are supposed to be the stars, and Preakness favorite Street Sense is certainly that. But the guy driving the bus warrants curtain calls too. In the Kentucky Derby, a mile-and-aquarter ride that took 2 minutes 2.17 seconds, Borel became the perfect storm of horse racing stories.
He is the 40-year-old son of a Cajun farmer who taught his family the value of hard work but didn’t include formal education in that equation. Borel doesn’t read or write, but the word “illiterate” doesn’t quite do him justice. He speaks French as well as English and is engaged to 27year-old Louisville graduate Lisa Funk, who is working toward her teaching degree.
Borel works seven days a week, most of the time riding horses and sometimes cleaning their stalls. He has ridden successfully since he was a teenager and has more than 4,000 wins and $80 million in winnings. The Derby certainly wasn’t his first big race, but his is not a name that falls naturally alongside the likes of Shoemaker, Arcaro, Longden and Pincay.
When he won the Derby on Street Sense, he celebrated openly and unabashedly on national TV, got invited to a White House dinner and an appearance on “The Tonight Show.” He said yes to George W. and no to Jay L. Some would question those decisions, but he did get to wear a tuxedo and meet Queen Elizabeth at the White House.
He says he remembers the paparazzi when he got out of the limo in Washington.
“Scared the hell out of me,” he says.
The president hugged him and told him he was “the man of the hour.” Then he introduced Borel to the Queen, who had been at the race and who congratulated him. Borel uses his favorite word to describe all that. “It was awesome,” he says. So was the reception he received when he arrived home the night of the Derby, in his neighborhood about 10 minutes from Louisville’s Churchill Downs.
“There were a bunch of 6- and 7-year-olds, singing a song about me and Street Sense,” he says. “It was the damnedest thing I ever saw. Made me cry.”
ROYAL TREATMENT: Calvin Borel and fiancee Lisa Funk arrive at a state dinner for Queen Elizabeth at the White House.