Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel to return to racing later this month

Calvin Borel announced his retirement last March but is already working on a comeback.
Calvin Borel announced his retirement last March but is already working on a comeback. Herald-Leader

Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel is ending his brief retirement and will return to riding Aug. 27 at Ellis Park, the three-time Kentucky Derby-winning rider confirmed Monday.

The 49-year-old Borel announced his retirement abruptly at the end of March in a statement through his former agent, Larry Melancon. Though he gave no detailed reason at the time behind his decision to step away, Borel confirmed that he and Lisa Borel were no longer together and that he has been staying with trainer Buff Bradley on Bradley’s Frankfort-based farm in recent weeks.

Borel told Ellis Park’s publicity staff that while Lisa took his last name, the two were never married.

“I didn’t like it. I took enough time off. It wasn’t fun anymore,” Borel told Ellis Park’s staff of retirement. “It came to a point where this is all I know how to do, I guess. And I’m healthy. Some people quit because they’re tired of it. I’m not tired of it. I was in New York for like two weeks, getting on some horses for ‘Coach,’ Wayne Lukas, and he said, ‘You’re not ready to retire.’ And I’m happy. I just want to come back and ride and see what happens.”

Borel will be represented by agent Frank Bernis, who also lines up the mounts for Brian Hernandez Jr., upon his return.

Bradley has seen firsthand how much Borel’s competitive fire still burns. After returning to his native Louisiana to spend time with family, Borel came to Kentucky in early summer, and was soon getting on the pony and working horses for Bradley.

When he wasn’t in the saddle or helping out around the farm, Bradley noticed Borel couldn’t help but end up watching a day’s slate of racing if it was up on the television.

“I think he’s known for a while that he wants to (come back),” Bradley said. “He just wanted to make sure. He’s been working horses but he wanted to figure out when he wanted to start and how he wanted to do it.

“If we were just at the house and I wasn’t racing anything, I’d have it on the racing channel and he’d be watching it. I think he still has burning desire and passion for it. He just had some things in his life he wanted to get straight and make sure he could give 100 percent. Physically, he’s fit. He’s been working out and riding quite a few horses. He said he’s ready to go.”

Known for his relentless work ethic and his ability to use the inside path of a track like few others, Borel earned meet titles at Oaklawn Park, Ellis Park and Louisiana Downs, but it was at Churchill Downs where his prowess especially shone. 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.

Borel captured the Kentucky Derby three times in a four-year span, taking the 2007 edition aboard champion Street Sense, guiding 50-1 long shot Mine That Bird to the upset in 2009 and piloting Super Saver to the first leg of the Triple Crown in 2010.

For all his success on the first Saturday of May, Borel is most famously linked with 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. Borel guided the champion filly to historic victories in that year’s Kentucky Oaks, Preakness Stakes, Mother Goose, Haskell Invitational and Woodward Stakes, and he made the trip to New York last Friday to watch her get inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame.

“When you love something, it’s hard to break (away),” said Borel, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. “This is all I know how to do, and I love it. And I’m healthy. If I wasn’t healthy, I could walk away. But I’m doing so good now. I’m not fighting my weight. I’m so happy.”

Borel’s 5,146 victories rank No. 27 all-time. His down-home ways and heart-felt emotion have long made him a fan favorite.

“I think he’s getting everything squared away and he’s ready to go back to work,” Bradley said. “He’s very much eager and I know he’ll give 110 percent toward it.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl