Jockey Calvin Borel Prepares for the Preakness

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Calvin Borel

Calvin Borel is the jockey for Street Sense, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby. Andy Lyons/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Calvin Borel Rides Street Sense

Calvin Borel rides Street Sense to the head of the Kentucky Derby pack on May 5, 2007. Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images

Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel awaits a much-anticipated run at the Triple Crown with the second of three events, the Preakness, set to take place Saturday in Baltimore.

The fabled top prize in horse racing, the Triple Crown, has gone unclaimed since 1978. That year, Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes to take the honor.

But each year on the first Saturday in May, another young horse with a Derby win in Louisville behind him has a brand-new chance.

Calvin Borel, who rides Street Sense, has won 4,300 races. But his name has been well-known for only a couple of weeks — since the day he and his horse took the race at Churchill Downs.

Borel is 40 years old. When he tells you he's been in 25,000 races, he smiles as if it seems hard to believe. He refers to his accidents as "a few spills." Over the years, his body has endured numerous broken bones, a ruptured spleen and missing teeth.

"You know, you might ride to 45- to 50-years-old, if you're lucky," Borel said.

Asked about his friends in the business who have been seriously hurt, Borel answers, "Oh yeah, many friends, and some friends got killed. You know, I love it so much I don't let that get in my way. To me, if you're scared, that's when you're going to get hurt."

And as for the day he and Street Sense came from behind to win the Derby at Louisville, Borel said it is the sound of the crowd that he will remember.

"I mean, you wouldn't imagine the noise," he said. "God, how these horses run through this. I never heard it until the last five or six jumps, when I knew I was going to win. I caught goose bumps, cried. It was unbelievable, the greatest moment of my life."

Calvin Borel's Body Reflects Wounds of Jockeying

Calvin Borel's hands

Calvin Borel's strong, knobby hands evidence his years of work as a jockey. Noah Adams/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Noah Adams/NPR

Calvin Borel has ridden thousands of Thoroughbred horses in competition. The small man's hands are strong from years of work as a jockey, and knobby as if broken bones had knit back together reluctantly.

When asked about the dangers of riding, Borel reaches down and raps a table.

"I've been lucky, I'm not paralyzed," he says.

Borel counts six broken ribs — some of which are now partly plastic. He has a plate and eight pins in one of his arms. He has shattered a kneecap, ruptured his spleen, torn a rotator cuff, and broken both collarbones, both shoulders, both legs, a wrist and almost all of his toes. ("You bang them on the starting gate," he explains.)

When asked about all this, he says simply, "I've had a few spills."

Borel's teeth are gone. They were broken in falls, slammed by horses and weakened by stomach acid from years of "heaving" or "flipping" to keep his weight down.

Borel said he's doing much better with his weight since his fiancée Lisa Funk, who he met at the track, has been encouraging lighter, more nutritional meals. Still, Borel deals with the repercussions. He recently broke a new $3,000 set of teeth in a fall.

Working a six-day week, Borel usually starts before sunrise and gets home after 8 p.m., with a break around lunchtime. The work, the riding, keeps him strong, he says.

"You've got to stay fit," Borel said. "You weigh 110 pounds and you've got to be helping the horse."



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