How did Calvin Borel—who has a chance to become the first jockey to win the three Triple Crown races on two different horses—get so good at his job? Because dangerously illegal backwater death tracks made him that way.
As you may have noticed from his incomprehensible post-race interviews, Borel is from the South. Louisiana, specifically, where tiny, podunk "bush tracks" provide the gritty foundation for horse racing in America. Borel learned to ride as a toddler and not in some grassy pasture with a cowboy leading his horse by a rope. He was racing thoroughbreds down double-wide dirt tracks with no turns at 8 years old—for $4 a race, 17 races a day. (And sometimes he would race against a chicken, for some reason.) But then the nanny state had to go and ruin all that.
No other region in the continental U.S. offered kids as young as 8 the opportunity to learn the balance and subtle artistry it takes to ride a reckless, 1,200-pound animal. Riding racehorses is sort of like skydiving-there's only one way to learn how to do it.
And if you could do it on a bush tracks, sometimes with your bare feet in the stirrups, sometimes on a horse's bare back, surely you could do it on a sanctioned track with an ambulance following behind....
Veteran horsemen say the end of the bush track, and rules requiring all jockeys to be at least 16, are major reasons the sport is dominated by jockeys from the Caribbean and South and Central America, where informal racing still allows children to ride.
"It's like kids and basketball in the inner city," said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "The riders from Puerto Rico and Mexico and those places, they still grow up with horses all around them."
Actually, it's not like that at all, but point taken. Latin riders are dominating our good 'ol American boys and there ain't no turning back. Those crazy Puerto Ricans ride horses everywhere and how is little Johnny supposed to compete with that when his helicopter parents are constantly trying to protect little Snowflake from broken collarbones and horseshoes to the face?
It also probably doesn't help the jockey industry that 20% of our youth population is morbidly obese.
Hardly a star student, Mr. Borel dropped out of school after eighth grade. ("It was pretty clear I wasn't going to be no doctor or no lawyer," he said.)
Look at what those fat bastards are missing out on!
The Racetrack Education of Jockey Calvin Borel [Wall Street Journal]