The ever-nimble Tom Durkin, hosting the 2013 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame induction ceremony, improvised a joke that cracked up the crowd at the Fasig-Tipton pavilion on Friday morning.
For now, suffice to say that jockey Calvin Borel didn’t need any artificial tear duct stimulus.
The tears were genuine, and they never seemed to run out as he and his wife, Lisa Funk, stood on the dais to accept his plaque signifying induction to the Hall of Fame.
Best known for having won the Kentucky Derby three times in a span of four years and for being the regular rider for Rachel Alexandra, the 46-year-old Borel delivered a heartfelt acceptance speech that was supported by his wife’s comments and recitation of a long list of people to thank.
Among them were owners and trainers who had given Borel a chance over the years, as well as his late parents and long-time agent, Jerry Hissam, who retired in April due to illness, but made the trip to Saratoga Springs from Hot Springs, Ark.
Also in attendance was Borel’s brother, Cecil, a trainer who gave him some of the first mounts of a career that has passed 5,000 victories and purse winnings of over $120 million.
“I just wish my mom and dad could be here to see what I accomplished in my life,” Calvin Borel said. “They’re smiling down on me. I was very, very, very blessed to have a mom and dad who let me do what I wanted to do.
“I went through the eighth grade, but I wanted to ride so bad. I had a good, good brother. A good guy. And it made me who I am. I had to work very hard, but it paid off big time.”
Besides Borel, the horses Housebuster, Invasor, Lure, McDynamo and Tuscalee were inducted, and August Belmont II and Paul Mellon were recognized in a special Pillars of the Turf category that the Hall of Fame began this year.
Borel was presented by Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger, who teamed with Borel to win the first of Borel’s Kentucky Derbies, in 2007 with Street Sense, who also won the Travers at Saratoga that year.
Borel followed that up by winning the 2009 Derby on 50-1 Mine That Bird in one of the most stunning outcomes in the race’s history, and on Super Saver in 2010, which gave trainer Todd Pletcher the only Derby in his career.
“Calvin and I met in the fall of 1996, and neither of us could ever imagine this day that we’re having,” Nafzger told the crowd. “The horse and God have taken Calvin Borel and me from the swamps of Louisiana and the plains of Texas to the highest honor that you can receive in thoroughbred racing.”
Borel was born in the heart of Cajun country, in St. Martin Parish, La., and worked his way up through tracks like Delta Downs and Evangeline Downs to become a fixture in Kentucky. Funk said trainer Virgil “Yu Yu” Blanchard gave Borel his start, “riding the bush tracks, taught him how to ride, let him stay at his house where the rats were bigger than the cats.”
Joining forces with Hissam was a breakthrough that led to his success in Kentucky.
Borel and Hall of Famer Pat Day are the only jockeys to have won at least 1,000 races at Churchill Downs.
“We worked very hard,” Borel said. “As long as I’ve been riding, 38 years or whatever, I’ve never seen a rider and an agent get along like this. I showed up, he showed up; I did my work, he did his.
“If we had two, three horses in a race, I’d let him do his job. If I wanted to ride one, I’d tell him, and we rode it and tried to get the job done. If we lost a horse, we’d always try to find another one to beat him.”
Borel, known as “Bo-rail” for his rail-hugging tactics that were on full display in his Derby wins, also won the Preakness on Rachel Alexandra on the heels of a victory in the Kentucky Oaks.
After the Mother Goose, Rachel Alexandra beat males in the Haskell and Woodward.
“Jess Jackson, Barbara Banke . . . thank you for letting us ride Rachel . . . so much . . . Steve Asmussen, Scott Blasi,” Funk said, “and thank you, Saratoga, for that amazing Woodward victory. That applause when she came back was amazing.”
The biggest laugh of the induction ceremony came on the heels of another teary delivery, by Housebuster’s owner Bob Levy.
He described watching TV and seeing ads for “pills that create tears” that were unnecessary, because “This is the best way to create tears,” he said, standing at the podium.
After Durkin regained the microphone, he said, “Bob, I didn’t know where you were going with that, watching sports and seeing an ad for pills that make you weep, but I guess it would be Cry-agra.”
Housebuster won the Eclipse Award for sprinter in 1990 and 1991 and finished with a record of 15-3-1 from 22 starts for earnings of $1,229,696.
The son of Mt. Livermore, trained by Jimmy Croll, won three Grade I races — the Jerome, Carter and Vosburgh — and also won the 1991 Forego, then a Grade II, in his only career start at Saratoga.
Lure won the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 1992 and 1993 and was 14-8-0 from 25 career starts for purses totaling $2,515,289.
Co-owned by Claiborne Farm and Nicole Gorman, and trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, Lure won both Saratoga starts, the 1993 Daryl’s Joy and the 1994 Bernard Baruch.
Invasor, owned by Shadwell Stable and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, was an Argentine-bred who won the Uruguayan Triple Crown before being purchased by Sheikh Hamdan to be raced in North America, where he was undefeated in five starts, all Grade I’s.
In 2006, he won the Pimlico Special, Suburban, Whitney and Breeders’ Cup Classic. He won the 2007 Donn Handicap, then the Dubai World Cup, after which he was retired with almost $8 million in earnings and 11 wins from 12 starts.
McDynamo won the steeplechase Eclipse Award in 2003, 2005 and 2006 and the Breeders’ Cup Grand National five years in a row, from 2003-07.
Tuscalee won 39 races out of 89 starts from 1963 to 1972 and remains the all-time leader in steeplechase wins with 37.