Calvin Borel: The comeback kid?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – Jockey Calvin Borel won a race at Keeneland the other day.

That might not have been noteworthy ten years ago but this race could be a stepping stone in a late life attempt to run once again with the big horses.

In 2006, Borel was on the cusp of turning his career as a journeyman jockey into a five-year run that would carry him to the Hall of Fame. 

Borel won the Kentucky Derby three out of four years and in 2009 he switched horses in the middle of the Triple Crown and won the Preakness on Rachel Alexandra.

Soon, a guy who started riding bush races when he was 8 years old in Louisiana was dining at the White House and chatting with the Queen. But that was then. This is now. And a jockey who turns 50 on November 7 is attempting a comeback.

It's a comeback because Calvin walked away from Oaklawn Park last spring and announced his retirement. That lasted five months but in August, Borel left that part of his life behind and returned to Churchill Downs.

After all, Churchill is the place where the old Cajun found his greatest success. Riding against Calvin Borel at Churchill was like playing Kentucky at Rupp Arena.

Give Calvin a good horse, the rail and a muddy track and anything was possible.  Combinations like that produced Derby winner Mine That Bird at 50 to 1 and gave trainer Todd Pletcher his only Derby win with Super Saver.

And so, when Calvin Borel comes out of retirement he's not looking for maiden claiming races. He admitted in an interview that autumn is the time when two-year-olds start to emerge and it's a place to find a Derby mount.

Except while Calvin was on hiatus, a constant stream of new jockeys emerged in the sport. They are young, light and athletic. It's hard to achieve those definitions when you're 50 years old.

But despite the handicap of age, Borel has proven over the years that he can outwork anybody. His early morning work ethic is giving him a few shots at afternoon mounts, but not many.

After a week at Keeneland, Julien Leparoux, Florent Geroux, Jose Ortiz and Luis Saez are at the top of the jockey standings. Calvin has only that one win. But it's the kind of race that could set the foundation for bigger things.

He won a maiden race on a two year old filly Champagne Problems. It was classic Borel at 7 furlongs. Trainer Ian Wilkes gave Calvin a shot and he delivered on the rail – again.

I quote from the official Chart: "Champagne Problems tucked in to save ground, (pure Calvin) got through every step, churned under stern urging and caught Torrent in the final yards."

The win was just a half a length but who knows where the dark bay filly by Ghostzapper might go from here. The filly is out of an A. P. Indy mare and is just the kind of mount that could bloom in the spring.

And it's the kind of win that could get the attention of other trainers who might notice that "Hey, Calvin's back!"

Five months away from the race track can be a lifetime. Calvin returned to a Churchill Downs that is now dominated by Robby Albarado, Corie Lanerie and Leparoux. They seem to get most of the good horses.

Calvin's return has found him consigned to a lot of 15 to 1 and 30 to 1 shots.  His famous smile was more warmly received by local horse racing fans, than by trainers who were looking for a hot jockey.

But if anybody can make a mark and find a promising two-year-old in November at Churchill Downs, it's the jockey who once dominated the local track. Throw in a few good rail trips, plus a lot of rainy days and Calvin could be back in the Derby. He's still a long shot but I wouldn't bet against him.


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