Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, has informed his agent, Larry Melancon, that he is retiring effective immediately.
Melancon confirmed the news Wednesday morning, saying Borel’s decision caught him off guard.
“It caught me by surprise,” said Melancon, a former jockey who has represented Borel since August. “That’s all I know.”
Borel was named on mounts at Oaklawn Park through Saturday. He could not be reached for comment.
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A native of Louisiana, Borel’s career stands as a tribute to what a blue-collar work ethic and special ability can achieve. From his roots in the Cajun bush tracks, Borel would go on to amass 5,146 wins since his start in 1983, according to Equibase, with his greatest success coming in the final decade in the irons.
Though he would earn meet titles at Oaklawn Park and Louisiana Downs, it was at Churchill Downs where Borel had a particular prowess. He won four meet titles at the track, and his total of 1,189 wins is second only to the legendary Pat Day in terms of all-time victories beneath the Twin Spires.
It was over that oval where he most often showcased how he gained his nickname of Bo-rail — inspired by his daredevil penchant for coming up the inside.
“You knew when he was in the race, you better not leave the fence open because he was always endeavoring to get through,” Day said of Borel. “The shortest way home was by the fence, and he kind of lived by that and was incredibly fortunate. He was a fierce competitor but a great guy.
“He was the same every day. Win, lose or draw, he conducted himself in exemplary fashion. He was a real credit to the jockey’s colony and the racing industry.”
Borel earned the first of his three Kentucky Derby wins aboard Street Sense in 2007, and that colt remains the only Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner to take the first leg of the Triple Crown.
In 2009, Borel again demonstrated how he could work the inside like no other reinsman when he guided long shot Mine That Bird up the rail to an improbable Kentucky Derby victory at odds of 50-1. A day earlier, Borel had ridden the brilliant filly Rachel Alexandra to a 20 1/4 -length win in the Kentucky Oaks, giving him the rare Oaks-Derby sweep, and he would stick with his favorite girl weeks later when he guided her to a historic victory in the Preakness Stakes.
“Personally, we were together for 24 years and he was like a son to me,” said Jerry Hissam, Borel’s longtime agent who retired last year. “His success came strictly from extreme hard work that his brother (Cecil) laid on him, and he’s done it. The run that we had was just unbelievable for both of us, and it all came from hard work on his side and a lot of hours put in by me.
“He’s won about every major stakes run at Arkansas, he’s second in number of wins at Churchill. He is just a pleasure to be around.”
For all the attention Borel gained as he piloted Rachel Alexandra through her Horse of the Year campaign, the following season brought an achievement that put him further into rarified air. In 2010, he rode WinStar Farm’s Super Saver to the win on the first Saturday in May, becoming just the fifth jockey at that point to win the Kentucky Derby in back-to-back years.
“I tell young riders, you will be on top today and the bottom tomorrow,” Borel said in an interview with the Herald-Leader in 2014. “It’s a humble game, but I work hard and ... if people see your face, they’re going to throw you a bone sooner or later. And I think that’s how we got to be where (he and Hissam) are.”
Next to the influence of his brother Cecil, arguably the biggest catalyst behind Borel’s success came when he and Hissam began their partnership in March 1991.
The two had immediate success, winning the meet title at Louisiana Downs and the $1 million Super Derby. In a sport where jockeys can switch agents multiple times throughout their careers, the enduring relationship between Hissam and Borel was unusual, magnified when an ailing Hissam made sure he was in attendance to watch Borel inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame at Saratoga in 2013.
“When he came in and saw me sitting there, that was unbelievable emotion between the two of us,” Hissam said. “To see him put that (Hall of Fame) coat on and walk up to that podium ... . It was just a tremendous day. Him and I would have never thought that a kid from Louisiana and a boy from West Virginia would end up participating in the Hall of Fame.
“I think the greatest moments of my career with him would be that we spent many mornings together in a business when most riders and agents don’t last very long together.”
Borel, 49, endured his share of injuries, including a broken leg after being thrown from his mount in a race at Keeneland in October 2013, an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Throughout the highs and lows that came with the business, Borel’s positive attitude made him a fan favorite at the track and a mentor in the jockeys’ room. He retires with 93 graded stakes wins and career earnings of $127,087,376.
“Along with his three Kentucky Derby victories and his status as one of the most accomplished jockeys in Churchill Downs history, Calvin’s 20 years at our track were as notable for his relationship with our fans as his excellence on the track,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “He loved the kids and felt a responsibility to provide a positive image to them and to let them know daily how much he appreciated them.
“There have been few, if any, individuals quite like Calvin Borel in 142 years of history at Churchill Downs. We thank him for a job well done and wish him the best in the future.”
Hall of Fame: Borel was inducted in 2013
Triple Crown wins: Kentucky Derby (2010: Super Saver; 2009: Mine That Bird; 2007: Street Sense), Preakness (2009: Rachel Alexandra)
Breeders’ Cup wins: Juvenile (2006: Street Sense)
Graded stakes wins: 93 (19 Grade I)
Record: 5,146 firsts, 4,616 seconds, 4,030 thirds