LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jockey Calvin Borel’s nickname is “Bo-rail,” a moniker he earned by hugging the fence whenever he gets a chance.
His logic for doing so is flawless: “It’s the shortest way around the track.”
On Saturday, “Bo-rail” followed his instincts to the biggest victory of his career, moving Street Sense from next-to-last like an accelerating locomotive to win the Kentucky Derby.
As the field turned for home, the colt blew by one horse after another on the rail, then went wide to squeeze past Hard Spun, his final challenger.
The win, Borel’s first in four Derby tries here, was also the first for the 40-year-old jockey in a Triple Crown race.
“I knew I had the ability, it was just finding the horse to get me there,” Borel said.
Borel found the perfect horse last summer, guiding Street Sense to a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and another victory this spring in the Tampa Bay Derby.
“He’ll do anything for you,” Borel said. “He’s very push-button. I really don’t know how good he is because he always gives me something when I ask.”
Once he crossed the finish line, Borel didn’t waste time celebrating. He lifted his right arm in triumph after hitting the wire and struggled to keep his emotions in check as rival after rival, and more than a few of the outriders, offered high fives and congratulations.
“I just want to thank my brother for getting me here,” Borel said, referring to older brother, Cecil, who practically raised him. “I wish my momma and daddy were here.”
But Street Sense was all the company he needed for two minutes on Saturday. The colt dropped to 19th early and was 17th at the three-quarter pole.
Borel held Street Sense back while Hard Spun tried to blitz the field with a blistering pace. Trainer Carl Nafzger never panicked, though, knowing Borel was simply biding his time.
“Calvin has a clock in his head that’s unreal,” Nafzger said.
When Borel and Street Sense reached the final turn, the colt surged by a pack of rivals, then stepped outside to reel in Hard Spun, buzzing past him as if he had another gear.
“After that it was just a matter of how far he’d win, because I knew when I asked him he’d have plenty left,” Borel said.
Borel is a tireless worker who still gets up at 5 a.m. to muck stalls, gallop mounts and help his brother Cecil, a trainer, keep his barn in order. Sunday might be different.
“I might take the morning off,” he said, laughing.
Old habits, however, die hard. After making his way back to the paddock, but before heading to the winner’s circle, the jockey grabbed a sponge and gave Street Sense a bath, a victory shower that was a lifetime in the making.
Borel began racing on the bush tracks at age 8 near his hometown ofSt. Martin Parish, La., in front of a hundred or so people, collecting a few dollars here or there.
On Saturday, with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip watching, Borel proved he, too, belonged among his sport’s elite.