LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Calvin Borel built his reputation as a jockey by taking whatever work would come his way, be it $5,000 claimers or $1 million superstars.
So Borel didn’t worry too much when he got his first look at tiny, unproven Mine That Bird, Borel’s mount in the Kentucky Derby. Big or small, fast or slow, Borel knew his job was to do more than just jog the unheralded gelding around muddy Churchill Downs.
“You got a hole, you got a shot,” Borel said. “I rode him like a good horse.”
Borel helped turn him into a champion.
Putting together the kind of rail-hugging move that’s helped him earn the nickname “Bo-rail,” the 42-year-old rider guided Mine That Bird into the second biggest upset in Derby history and put an emphatic exclamation point on the best weekend of his nomadic career.
Borel won the Kentucky Oaks on Friday aboard monster filly Rachel Alexandra, blowing by the field by a record 201/4 lengths.
He didn’t expect to be back in the winner’s circle so soon, or so easily. Yet Borel became just the seventh jockey to pull the Oaks/Derby double and the first since Jerry Bailey in 1993 with a 63/4-length victory, the largest margin in the Run for the Roses in more than 60 years.
“Really and truly you got to be surprised,” Borel said. “What can I say? The horse is in the Derby for a reason.”
Mine That Bird proved it during a dazzling run that brought to mind Borel’s win aboard Street Sense in the Derby two years ago.
Urged to be patient by trainer Bennie Woolley, Borel didn’t panic when his horse broke last and loped lazily along as the field raced by the grandstand for the first time.
“You’ve got to ride him to win,” Borel said. “That’s what I do best.”
Borel quickly moved up at the far turn then took dead aim at the leaders along the rail. He saw the sliver of daylight as he entered the top of the stretch. He knew it was tiny. It didn’t matter.
“He had enough room, he’s a small horse,” Borel said with a laugh.
Mine That Bird squeezed past with room to spare then roared to the finish as Borel became the 23rd jockey to win the Derby at least twice.
“I wasn’t planning on winning it, but he was going to finish somewhere,” Borel said. “He picked things up so easily, he was unbelievable.”
Shortly after the victory, Borel threw a rose in the air to honor his mother Ella, who has died since his last Derby win.
“I just wish she were here,” he said.
Instead, he’ll celebrate with his fiancee, Lisa Funk, and his brother, Cecil. Don’t expect it to get too extravagant. Borel enjoyed his record-setting victory in the Oaks with a slice of pizza.
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