On her recent state visit, Queen Elizabeth II visited Churchill Downs to watch the Kentucky Derby where she saw Calvin (Boo) Borel ride the colt Street Sense to victory.
Two days later, Boo Borel, a 40-year-old, 5’4”, 114-pound jockey from Cajun Louisiana, was introduced to the Queen at a white-tie State dinner at the White House. President W. hugged him, and he made small-talk with Supreme Court Justices and Ambassadors. It was said Calvin smiled a lot but didn’t talk much. Maybe he was intimidated by the star power, or perhaps he was tongue-tied by his grade-school education.
Here are some things Boo probably didn’t tell them: that he is the son of a sugarcane farmer, and he dropped out of school after the eighth grade. He wanted to pursue his passion for horses. As an eight year old he learned to ride by being tied to the saddle. At 13, his father acquiesced and he apprenticed himself to his older brother, Cecil, a trainer. His father’s last piece of advice for his success was “work hard, do things the right way, and be happy.” He was mentored by his brother and got an advanced degree in how to communicate with horses. He has an agent who lines up high-stakes horses for him to ride, but he still rides the inexpensive ones with the same intensity as the big stakes winners.
A couple of days after his fairytale evening at the White House, a friend at the track teased that now that he’d met the Queen, maybe wouldn’t be riding in small, “claiming” races anymore. Boo said to his friend, “You know that ain’t true; you don’t forget the people who brung you here.”
It’s clear that for Boo Borel, meeting the Queen will be a cherished memory, but Boo is back at the track doing what he knows and loves. This weekend, he rode Street Sense in the second star of the Triple Crown of racing, the Preakness, and was nosed out at the wire. Borel did not need a photo of finish to know he’d lost, and rode beside the race winner, and in good sportsmanship said “you got me”.
Boo Borel may not have a formal education, but he does have street sense. He and his father remind us of the critical elements in walking a successful path in life. Don’t get captivated by your ego, remember who and what “brung” you here; work hard, do the right thing, and be happy.
That’s the horse you want to ride to win the biggest stake of all…the race of your life.