When you live in Louisville, the Kentucky Derby’s a pretty big deal. The entire city comes together for the greatest two minutes in sports on that first Saturday in May. We pay close attention to the horses, the trainers and most definitely the jockeys. One of our hometown favorites is Calvin Borel. He’s also one of my favorite interviews this year.
Calvin, who lives in Louisville now, but grew up in Louisiana, is one of the greatest jockeys in the business. A Hall of Fame jockey, he’s won the Kentucky Derby three times, all in a record five-year span, but you’d never know it to talk to him. He has absolutely never forgotten where he came from – which is, actually, incredibly refreshing.
Calvin has a deep love of horses and a passion for the sport. It shines through, along with a grateful attitude for being able to do what he’s dreamed of doing all his life.
When you talk to him with questions about some of the greatest races he’s won over the years – he’s quick to give the credit to someone else. For example with his first Derby win on Street Sense in 2007 he credits both trainer, Carl Nafzger, and Street Sense himself for making it to the Winner’s Circle.
Calvin says he knew from the first time he rode Street Sense that the horse was something special.
“When I got back home I told my wife that if I ever have a chance to win the Derby, Street Sense would be the one to do it because he was a very, very, very special horse, unbelievable.”
He says it was Nafzger who gave him the confidence to ride to Street Sense to his full potential.
“He told me from Day 1, ‘Calvin, don’t worry, he’s yours. If we make it we make it, if we don’t we don’t.’ I didn’t have any pressure. That helped me so much.”
Growing up in South Louisiana, Calvin moved in with his older, horse trainer brother Cecil at the age of twelve, dropping out of school in the eighth grade. Calvin devoted himself to working and riding for Cecil and remains appreciative today for his brother’s help and support. He still rides for Cecil, and you can often find him on the backside of Churchill Downs or elsewhere helping clean out the stalls at his brother’s barn.
In October, Calvin suffered injuries at Keeneland when his horse fell. He was hospitalized with a broken fibula in his left leg and a hairline fracture in the vertebrae in his neck. His wife, Lisa, told a local TV station that Calvin was very upset and emotional about missing Churchill Down’s Fall Meet.
We'll all miss Calvin not riding this November. But he'll be back and the sooner the better. You can't keep a good man down. .
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