LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- "Hard work. Family. Treat owners right. Treat trainers right. And try."
These, according to Calvin Borel, are the keys to Kentucky Derby success.
The 45-year-old jockey has captured three of the past five editions of the Run for the Roses, and his knack for winning America's premier race leaves many wondering exactly what the secret is.
Borel insists there is none. He gives the bulk of the credit to the three horses who carried him to victory -- Street Sense in 2007, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver in 2010.
"When you ride those kind of horses, it makes you look good," Borel admitted Wednesday morning on the backside at Churchill Downs. "It picks up your confidence. There's not many good horses in this world. They come few and far apart."
In spite of the rarity, Borel believes he's found another potential victor in Take Charge Indy -- his mount this year on the first Saturday in May. He's ridden the colt twice this season, most recently to steal the Grade 1 Florida Derby at odds of 13-1. But Borel's admiration dates back even further for the bay son of A.P. Indy out of the multiple Grade 1-winning mare Take Charge Lady.
"I watched him run in the Breeders' Cup last year," Borel said, referencing the Juvenile run in which the colt finished fifth. "I thought he was a good horse then, and after [some] time off, he just blossomed out. I started working him at Palm Meadows [training center in Florida]. He was just doing it too easy. I'm talking, like, Street Sense works."
It is telling that Borel invokes the name of Street Sense when speaking of Take Charge Indy. Of his three victorious Derby mounts, Street Sense is the one whose legacy is held in the highest regard (the horse is now a stallion at Darley Stud). In addition to fast workouts, there are other ways this colt reminds Borel of the runner who first took him to the Derby winner's circle.
If Street Sense holds a very special place in the jockey's heart, more so does that runner's trainer, Carl Nafzger -- whom Borel credits for kick-starting his career.
"Carl Nafzger gave me a chance to ride a horse like Street Sense," Borel fondly recalled. "It showed people that I was as good as anybody."
Borel has a great deal of respect for Nafgzer, as well as Chip Wooley and Todd Pletcher -- the other two trainers for whom Borel has won the Derby. The three, whose training methods vary greatly, shared one thing in common, according to Borel: They weren't backseat drivers and they left Borel alone when it came time for tactical decisions.
"Every trainer I won for in the Derby, they threw me up, and not one of them told me how to ride," the jockey said. "[They'd tell me,] 'You got him. He's yours now.' And it's panned out to be good. Carl Nafzger, Chip Wooley, even Todd Pletcher. He looked at me and he said, 'Ride your race. You know what you're doing.'"
Trainer Patrick Byrne doesn't plan on bucking this trend. He trusts the crafty Cajun to work out the best trip for his colt in the Derby and referenced an old bit of racetrack wisdom when explaining why he'll leave Borel alone: A bad jockey can't follow instructions, and a good jockey doesn't need any.
"And we've got a good one," Byrne remarked. "We're just going to let Calvin ride his race."
Chuck Sandford, who owns Take Charge Indy along with his wife Maribeth, is another firm backer of Borel.
"We've got the best jockey at Churchill Downs, his record proves it," Sandford said. "So we will hand the horse to Calvin, say, 'Calvin, go have some fun,' and he'll figure out the rest."
There doesn't seem to be all that much for Borel to have to figure out, at least tactically, with Take Charge Indy. The duo will break from Gate 3, and they figure to be prominent in the early running. Being drawn inside is made to order for Borel, who has earned the nickname "Bo-Rail" for his rail-skimming rides -- most dramatically on Mine That Bird.
We've got the best jockey at Churchill Downs. So we will hand the horse to Calvin, say, 'Calvin, go have some fun,' and he'll figure out the rest.
”-- Chuck Sandford, owner of Take Charge Indy
These daring journeys around the Churchill oval have brought the jockey a legion of fans and made him a likely Hall of Fame inductee one day. Already a two-time nominee who is just 40 wins away from 5,000, Borel cited induction in the Saratoga Springs museum as one of two career goals he has left.
"I want to get to 5,000 and I want to be in the Hall of Fame," Borel said. "I think I deserve it; I did a lot of things in my career that a lot of riders haven't done."
Don't let the legacy talk fool you. Borel still has plenty of race riding left in him. He may be well into his 40s -- a time when athletes are supposed to face the twilight of their careers -- but he doesn't plan on hanging up his tack anytime soon.
He simply wouldn't know what to do if he wasn't riding.
"[My wife, Lisa,] asks me, 'When are you going to retire?'" he said. "I tell her 'I don't know.' I love the game. It's like a drug."
And Derby victories bring the ultimate high.
-- Additional reporting by Claire Novak
Joe DePaolo is a freelance writer whose coverage of thoroughbred racing and entertainment has been featured by numerous different outlets. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.