SARATOGA SPRINGS - At 4, he rode his pony Charlie into the family's tiny wooden house across from a sugar cane field in Catahoula, deep in Louisiana's boondocks. At 8, Calvin Borel apprenticed under trainer Yu Yu Blanchard, with whom he lived in a home "where the rats were as big as the cats." Blanchard called him a natural, and he was right.
Thirty-eight years after debuting at Louis Huval's dusty bush track in Youngsville, La., Borel entered horse heaven. The master of Churchill Downs, the only jockey to win three Kentucky Derbys in four years, was inducted Friday morning into the Hall of Fame. For someone whose comfort zone is on horseback, it was like galloping through the Pearly Gates.
"I love the game so much," Borel said. "I love getting up to go to work."
The 46-year-old Cajun thanked his late parents, Clovis and Ella; his wife, Lisa; his brother and mentor, Cecil, a trainer and former jockey; his former agent, Jerry Hissam; the late Blanchard, and all trainers and horses who helped him get there.
"I just wish my mom and dad were here to see what I accomplished in my life," a teary Borel said. "They let me do what I wanted to do. I had to work very hard, but it paid off big time."
Hissam, 68, retired this year because of illness. "In 22 years, we never had two bad words," Borel said. "I let him pick the horses. If we lost [a mount], we always tried to find one to beat him."
Like Sara Lee, nobody doesn't like Calvin Borel. The backstretch Everyman acknowledged a woman who yelled, "We love you, Calvin." He posed with and signed for many admirers, one of whom said, "Congratulations, it's been a long time coming."
Borel didn't become a national figure until he was 40, thanks to a memorable last-to-first rail run on Street Sense in the 2007 Derby. There were more Triple Crown victories with 50-1 shot Mine That Bird (2009 Derby), the filly Rachel Alexandra (2009 Preakness) and Super Saver (2010 Derby).
Cecil Borel, 14 years older, taught Calvin the benefits of saving ground. Without him, Calvin might not have earned the nickname "Bo-rail."
"I think he deserves this," Cecil said. "Not too many people got here from where he came from."
Notes & quotes:Also inducted were 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor; 1990 and 1991 sprint champion Housebuster; Lure, a two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner (1992, '93); steeplechasers McDynamo and Tuscalee; August Belmont II (1853-1924), who co-founded Belmont Park and bred Man o' War, and Paul Mellon (1907-99), the only person to win the Kentucky Derby, Epsom Derby and Arc de Triomphe.