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The man behind the horse

Published May 19, 2007


Today, Calvin Borel, a 40-year-old jockey from Louisiana, will ride his Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in the Preakness Stakes. He is 5 feet 4 inches and 114 pounds, has a grade school education and has been riding horses since he was 8. This week he spoke with the St. Petersburg Times about sweet-talking his horse, dining at the White House and his dream of raising babies - the equine kind - with his 28-year-old fiancee, Lisa Funk.

When you were in the 19th position in the Derby, what were you thinking?

I was just biding my time. I knew Street Sense could fire. I knew I was on the best horse, but with that many horses in the race (20) I had to pick my way through them. He's so push-button he puts you in a good spot.

What's his personality like?

He likes to be pampered. When he walks to the track it'll take him 30 minutes to get there because he likes to look around. In the postparades and in the paddocks, nothing bothers him. You can throw a bomb and he'll never move. ... He's the best 3-year-old I've ever been on.

You took a while to get over to the Winner's Circle.

Well, the crowd was going so wild. I wanted to see them and the people in the grandstand who were so happy to see us walk by. It made me feel good and I think it made them feel good.

You thanked your dead father when you won. What about your mother? Did she see the race?

Yes, my nephew fixed up a big-screen TV in her room at the nursing home (in Louisiana). I called her after the race and she was crying. She said to go get the other two (and win the Triple Crown).

Does Street Sense have a barn name - a pet name?

Yeah, Big Daddy Rabbit. I gave him that name because he's got big, long ears.

Do you whisper in those ears?

I do. I say, "Go, Big Daddy Rabbit." I smooch at him, too. I talk to him a lot because he loves attention.

Do you have a good luck charm you carry or a ritual before a race?

I bring my liberty medal that's a cross, and I keep it in my helmet. I say the "Our Father" and I say thank you for letting me have another day. Then I try to let my dad know what I'm doing so he can watch me.

You were invited to a white-tie state dinner for Queen Elizabeth II at the White House two days after the Derby. Were you surprised by the invitation?

My agent (Jerry Hissam) thought it was a prank. A vice secretary called and Jerry said, "Oh, Lord, it's for real." So we had to hustle up.


The lady that runs the mall (in Louisville) opened the mall for my wife - I mean my fiancee - late Sunday so she could get a dress. Then they brought me to some little place where they have suits.

What size was your tux?

They made the waist a 26 and the pant leg was 22 inches. It fit perfectly.

Who did you sit with at the dinner?

Barbara, the Bush child.

How was that?

We had a good time. She picked up the finger bowl joking around like she was going to drink it. The three guys who were serving ran over and said, "Oh no, don't do that." She was just messing with them.

Who else was at your table?

That football player P. Manning - what's his name? And my fiancee and a couple of other guys.

Did you bring back souvenirs?

I got a menu signed by Colin Powell. We brought our napkins, too. The football player (Peyton Manning) ... and the Bush daughter signed a napkin.

When are you and Lisa getting married?

Most probably it'll be in the summer.

What do you two do to relax and have fun?

She rides jumpers. On my days off I go watch her. But when she has a big show it's usually on Saturdays and Sundays and unfortunately I'm not there. But in the summer when I take a little break I get to go watch her ride, and it's pretty cool.

So, practically all of your life together and apart is horses?

Yes, ma'am, it is. That's what we want. We're going to buy some land and build a barn and a house. She can mess with her jumpers and I'll pinhook - raise the babies - little bitty baby yearlings. I'll buy them and sell them when they're 2.

Do you get back home to Louisiana much?

We try to get back once a month to see my mom because she's 84 and she's getting pretty old.

Do you eat red beans and rice?

Not too much, baby. I used to when I used to heave - throw up to lose weight. But now, Lisa cooks me the right foods and I watch what I eat.

What does Lisa tell you she loves about you?

That I'm very dedicated. I get up at 4:30 or 5 every morning and go to my brother's barn. I love to be there and see the horses.

You raced in the Tampa Derby in March. How was that?

I loved it. I got lucky and won (on Street Sense). We went out to a famous steak house after that.

What are your concerns about the Preakness?

Sharp turns. Here (at Church Hill Downs) the turns are about a quarter-mile long. At Pimlico they're an eighth of a mile. I'll have to have him head up to the lead or pretty close on that turn for home.

You think Street Sense will win the Preakness? Or does it jinx it to say it?

No, I'm not worried one bit, baby. I mean he done broke the jinx here. Yesterday I worked him and he performed doing just what I wanted him to do. This colt's going forward. He's not going backward.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

[Last modified May 19, 2007, 01:43:06]

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