LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - An elite member of the horse racing world, three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel, has called it quits.
The Hall of Fame jockey announced his retirement through his agent on Wednesday.
While the rumblings of his retirement were out there, an announcement during the middle of a meet came as a surprising move for many. Borel's agent, Larry Melancon, said he wasn't expecting it for the rider, whose mounts have earned millions.
The news is sad for race fans who have loved the 49-year-old's winning ways and bright personality. Those who know him best say they are certain it's a decision he's been wrestling with.
"He's one of only nine jockeys that have won more than 5,000 races and four of those Triple Crown Classics," Churchill Downs' Senior Director of Communications and Media Services Darren Rogers said.
A horseman all his life, hard work and talent made Calvin Borel a Hall of Famer.
Borel told WAVE 3 News in 2010, "Whether it's a $10 million race or $2,500 race, I'm going give it 110 percent."
Borel had upcoming mounts in Arkansas. That's why a call Tuesday to his agent was so unexpected.
"He said he's going to retire, and I said, 'What?'" Melancon said of their conversation. "He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'When?' He said,'Now.'"
Melancon said Borel had only one more comment: "He kind of choked up and said, 'I can't talk,' so he hung up."
Fellow Hall of Fame rider Pat Day said leaving the daily grind of the track will be tough for Borel who is dedicated and one of the greats.
"He just felt like the time was right, the time is right and I commend him for that," Day said. "Three Derbys in four years, that's pretty remarkable," Day added of Borel's accomplishments.
Also remarkable: winning the Oaks in 2009 on Rachel Alexandra and the Derby the next day on Mine that Bird. Fans loved Calvin "Bo-Rail's" brilliant inside ride on the 50-to-1 Kentucky Derby long shot and the emotion he displayed after the win. In tears, he told NBC's Donna Brothers the win was for his mom and dad who had passed away.
The Louisiana native was always right at home in Kentucky, also winning the Derby in 2007 on Street Sense and in 2010 on Supersaver. And thanks to his racing resume and his well-known grin, Borel, like Day, is a favorite with fans.
"He's so great with the kids," Rogers said. "Any time a kid was around and asked for an autograph, Calvin would give them the time and invite them into the winner's circle. I know my 10-year-old boy idolizes him."
So do fellow riders who said the jocks room at Churchill Downs won't be the same without him.
Melancon said he called Borel back Wednesday morning to make sure that Borel was sure about retirement. He is. The agent said Borel doesn't have any major health issues that he knows of.
After learning of Borel's retirement, Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery issued the following statement:
"Along with his three Kentucky Derby victories and his status as one of the most accomplished jockeys in Churchill Downs history, Calvin's 20 years at our track were as notable for his relationship with our fans as his excellence on the track. Calvin rose to racing's Hall of Fame from humble beginnings, and that was reflected in his ongoing relationship with our fans – and especially children. He loved the kids and felt a responsibility to provide a positive image to them and to let them know daily how much he appreciated them. There have been few, if any, individuals quite like Calvin Borel in 142 years of history at Churchill Downs. We thank him for a job well done and wish him the best in the future.
Borel has won 5,146 races in his career, 1,189 of them at Churchill Downs.
Track officials said they would love to host a retirement celebration for Borel. Rogers said he knows fans would love to thank Borel for what he's done for the sport of racing.