What a Difference a Day Makes: the Odyssey of Calvin Borel

April 1, 2012

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I’m sure when Calvin Borel awakened early on Friday morning the thoughts of what he might encounter over the next 48 hours were well out of his head. When Calvin awakens I always figure the first thing on his mind is work.

What happened will always be remembered for something other than work.

Friday seemed like a typical racing day. Calvin’s agent, Jerry Hissam, had arranged for a fairly easy schedule. He had just one mount, aboard Gabbie Gulch, in the second race for trainer Lon Wiggins, son of the former trainer of Rachel Alexandra, who was one of Calvin’s greatest partners in his racing career.  Gabbie finished a non-threatening fourth and then Calvin could sit around and anticipate his mount in the 8th race, an occasionally troubled three-year-old named Last Gunfighter, the first horse to start at the meet for trainer Helen Pitts.

Because Last Gunfighter had some history of erratic behavior, he was going postward with blinkers for this event. Calvin was aware of Last Gunfighter, so he came prepared for anything.  Good thing he was.

Last Gunfighter was shuffled back to last in the early going, but that never bothers Borel. He’s come from last a number of times, so he settled in for a more normal trip.  The rail, which had been the Borel Highway for many years, was closed, so he took Last Gunfighter up between horses, got clear on the final turn, shot to the outside and set his sights on the leaders.

He picked them up fairly quickly and moved to the lead a quarter of a mile out.  He was bearing in some, so Borel chose that moment to correct his mount with a left-handed stick.  What happened shocked almost everyone –except Borel.  Last Gunfighter made a dramatic swerve to the outside with Borel hanging on with all the expertise.  This was not Borel’s first rodeo, so he worked not just to stop the momentum of the swerve, but to get his mount back into the race. Once straightened the son of First Samurai finished strongly and lost by just a diminishing neck to Runaway Chase, a horse untroubled by Last Gunfighter’s hijinks.

The buzz following that race was primarily the crowd looking at one another and saying “What happened?”  To the folks who bet their case wagers on Last Gunfighter and were counting their winnings at the eighth pole, they had found the latest excuse for a horse to lose.

To Borel it was part of the job, although it shows why jockeys have to be so alert every moment there are on horseback.

With that memory in the back of his head, Calvin was unsurprisingly off-the-board with his final two mounts and prepared to catch an early morning flight to Miami to ride Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

The ride aboard Take Charge Indy was completely different from the outset than that with Last Gunfighter. Borel and Take Charge Indy were able to take charge on the rail immediately and galloped along unchallenged.  A 30-1 longshot, Reveron, challenged on the final turn and actually seemed to head Take Charge Indy momentarily coming off the final turn, but Borel was not through.  His mount, well rested from the breather Borel was able to give him in the early going, shot back up inside of Reveron and suddenly he was easing away from that rival.  Back behind the lead pair, Union Rags and El Padrino, were struggling to make up some ground.  But that was a lost cause.  Instead it was Borel and Take Charge Indy who were pulling away and this time there was no swerve to the right.  Take Charge Indy ran straight and true to the wire and, largely because of his partnership with Borel, became a major player in the discussion about the Kentucky Derby.

Borel and Hissam still have the jewelry from previous Kentucky Derby wins with Street Sense, Super Saver and Mine That Bird.  Calvin is on the ballot for induction into the National Racing Hall of Fame this year and the superb ride with Take Charge Indy didn’t hurt his cause one bit.

He returned to a loving audience at Oaklawn on Sunday afternoon and life returned to normal. Normal life for Calvin Borel is never the same as normal to the rest of us.  If ever a guy has earned his accolades, it’s Calvin Borel.  His unusal talent and bravery have both been on display this weekend and the only trips he needs to make plans for are to Churchill Downs for the first Saturday in May and the Run For The Roses, then this summer to be added to the roster of the National Racing Hall of Fame. 

Calvin showed the brilliance of his profession in those two rides over the weekend.  We already knew the wonderful, passionate side of the guy for his work and for the people around him.  This has been quite a journey even when he is not on the rail.  Few have come along with so much talent and develop so much love at the same time.   It’s been fun to see this story develop.  I had the joy of seeing the maturation of Steve Cauthen decades ago and now I’m enjoying the Borel story just as much.   When you live around this business for a while, you get to see some wonderful things.  The Borel Odyssey is a work still developing.  Hang on, this is likely to be some ride. 

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