#INTERVIEW: CALVIN BOREL ON “50 TO 1”
You’d better bet we’ve got Derby Fever! Although we weren’t lucky enough to see a theatrical release for 50 to 1 north of the Border, Canadians finally will have their chance to see on DVD and Digital HD the True Story of MINE THAT BIRD overcoming great odds to win the world’s most famous horse race in 2009, the Kentucky Derby. Many forget the horse got his start here at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, receiving a Sovereign Award for Champion Two-Year-Old Male in 2008, before being sold to American owners Double Eagle Ranch and Buena Serte Equine. This Film and Story hold a deep, visceral meaning to Canadians.
Directed by Dances with Wolves Producer Jim Wilson, the Drama tells the Story how two rough-and-tumble New Mexico Cowboys played by Skeet Ulrich (Law & Order: LA) and Christian Kane (Angel) got it right when it counted most with a horse few believed in. They embark on a tumultuous journey to Kentucky for the big race.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Calvin Borel who not only rode MINE THAT BIRD to a mindblowing upset in the Derby, but he also stars in 50 to 1 as himself. Because well, as his agent Jerry Hissam puts it, “I don’t know if you can find another Calvin Borel. There’s only one.”.
The day is busy for Borel who at 7:30 AM already has exercised two horses, fitting-in a quick moment to chat in support of the Movie from Kentucky, before heading to exercise another. He is balancing a busy work schedule with home life as his Wife, Lisa Funk, resides on their two-acre Farm in Florida. The 48-year-old jockey has amassed over 5,120 victories recorded to date, getting his start as an eight-year-old at Louisiana Bush Tracks, riding on weekends 15-20 match races early in the day, before heading off to ride yet another 15-20 more in the afternoon. By ninth grade, he was out of school, already finding his true calling in life at an age when most kids are just figuring out what to wear to the school dance. “It’s a shame we don’t have Bush Tracks now. There aren’t too many good riders that come out of Louisiana anymore”, Borel feels.
Money certainly can be good in Horse Racing as a jockey, but Borel credits his older brother Cecil – also formerly in the profession and now a Trainer – for his success. “I had good guidance. My brother was there to take care of me after our parents passed away”, he tells us. “He was there for me win, lose or draw, he saved my money for me because it doesn’t last forever.”. Admitting he still has a few years to go in the game, Borel says, “You’re not gonna ride forever. You might have 30-40 good years. My brother had rode and been there. He wasn’t gonna let it happen to me.”. “All riders should have good guidance. There would be a lot better riders if there were.”.
Borel tells me about his experience playing himself in 50 to 1, after being approached by Wilson via his agent Jerry. “It took about two years to make. The last five days of filming we did everything around the racetrack from 5 in the morning to 10 at night”. “We would shoot four or five days a month and that’s why it took so long. There was a lot of traveling.”. He adds, “Mr. Jim (Wilson) helped me a lot and it was wonderful.”.
Acting didn’t come naturally for Borel. “In the Jocks’ Room and on the horse, I was perfect”, he admits. “The hardest part was filming talking in the grandstand to the Owner and Trainer. I wasn’t in my zone”. “Once I got to the Jocks’ Room, Mr. Jim threw the reins to me and told me ‘Give me whatever you all do!'”. “I was happy I could play myself and just let it come out naturally so it looks real, real, real!”, he laughs, “Driving in the Car Wash and not putting the windows up… anyone who knows me, I’ll do things like that!”.
After the Story of 50 to 1 ends in celebratory fashion with Borel‘s gleaming smile in the Winner’s Circle, he was faced with perhaps one of the toughest decisions of his career. In addition to an unforgettable win aboard Mine That Bird, he also was responsible for piloting the sport’s sweetheart filly Rachel Alexandra, whom just the day prior crushed her opposition by 21 lengths in the Kentucky Oaks (like the Derby, but restricted to female entrants). Horse Racing is not a sport without Drama and with the filly and her connection’s sights set on the second leg of the American Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes – where she eventually would tackle the boys and win – the jockey had to make the difficult decision which horse to ride.
“Those were the longest five days of my life”, says Borel. “Mr. Chip (Trainer of Mine that Bird) was so good to me and everything. It was hard, but at the time I believed Rachel Alexandra was the best horse in the world. And I’ve ridden a lot of great horses, not taking nothing away from Mine That Bird.”. He adds, “I had no choice but to ride my filly because I loved her.”.
We wonder how the two horses were on a personal level. “She was very, very mean”, he tells us about Rachel Alexandra. “If she didn’t know you, she would bite you. She was very temperamental. When she got mad at you, you could not fight her. I rode her mom (Lotta Kim) and she was the exact same way.”. “She’d take one deep breath before stepping into the gate. I’d tell my wife that if she didn’t do that at the gate, I’d fall off”, he says semi-jokingly. Mine that Bird on the other hand had much more composure than the Superfilly, “You could put a bomb under him!”, he recalls. “Totally different horses”.
It was just announced this week that Borel indeed will have a mount the first Saturday in May in El Kabeir at this year’s renewal of the $2-million Kentucky Derby. The blue-blooded Zayat Stables Colt is ranked eighth on the official Leaderboard for the Race currently. “People don’t understand the pressure, but I take pressure very good. I’ve seen a lot of Riders who ride good, good, good but it’s a totally different story in the Derby“, he explains. “You have 20 horses and you have to be so focused, have a plan, hoping that plan works. It’s a different Ball Game, I tell you that.”. And he certainly knows best. He’s won the Kentucky Derby a remarkable three times.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Canada release 50 to 1 on DVD and Digital HD on Tuesday, April 28, 2015.
The 141st renewal of the Kentucky Derby airs Saturday, May 2, 2015 on NBC at 7:00 PM EST. More here.
You still have a chance to win an official 50 to 1 Prize Pack here.
(Photo credit: Sony Pictures)