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Calvin Borel Back at Ellis Park


Calvin Borel introduced his fiancee's son to Brass Hat, a $2 million-earner that the jockey frequently rode, when the 16-year-old gelding returned to Ellis Park for Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Day July 16. Buff Bradley, who owns and trained Brass Hat, is at right. (Coady Photography)

Calvin Borel signed autographs after resuming his riding career last Aug. 27 at Ellis Park. (Coady Photography)

Calvin Borel winning a race on Kiss My Note for owner-trainer Buff Bradley at Ellis Park. It was Bradley's 500th career victory. (Coady Photography)
By Jennie Rees

Henderson, Ky. In the Tri-State area where Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois converge, Ellis Park is nestled on the only sliver of Kentucky located north of the Ohio River, bearing a Kentucky address and an Indiana area code. In its 95th year, Ellis Park is the second-oldest Thoroughbred racetrack in the commonwealth — only Churchill Downs is its elder. 

Ellis Park offers live Thoroughbred racing July 1st – Labor Day, Fridays through Sundays, plus Labor Day (closing day) and no racing on Saturday, September 2, which is the opener of sister track Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Kentucky on the Tennessee border. Ellis Park’s program for 2-year-olds produces a stream of notable horses, including this year’s Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee.

The “Pea Patch” is the decades-long nickname for Ellis Park, the only track in America that grows soybeans in its infield, as not only a unique visual, but also a cash crop. This year pumpkins and corn were added to launch the inaugural post-racing Pumpkin Fest and Corn Maze September 15-October 31, 2017. Ellis Park, with its grassy area with picnic tables, is popular with families and attracts many young kids.

There’s plenty of action seven-days a week, year-round with the historical horse racing terminals that mimic the experience of electronic slots. Admission is always free.

And there’s three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel, the most popular jockey at Ellis Park.

Unlike other major-league sports, the public has ready access to racing’s stars, with Ellis’ layout making it especially conducive. Fans flock around Borel, who last August 27, 2016 ended a five-month retirement by returning to ride at Ellis Park, where he was mobbed at an autograph session.

“I’ve been coming here for years,” Borel said. “I promise you, everybody and the fans know me. They love to bet on me and I love to have them. It’s like a little community, and I love coming here.”

Borel wears his heart on his sleeve, as epitomized by his boundless raw joy and unrestrained emotion after winning his first Kentucky Derby with Street Sense in 2007. Those would be followed by 50-1 odds Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver in 2010, making the Hall of Fame jockey the only rider to win the “Run for the Roses” three times in four years.

These days, the 50-year-old jockey says his happiness has surpassed even that. His first child is a boy due in late September or early October, 2017. Borel also plans to adopt fiancée Renay Falkner’s 2-year-old son, Stephen.

“Life is good. I won three Kentucky Derbies and I was happy,” he said. “But this is just unbelievable, listening to him kick at night. You know I love kids. This is just a dream come true. But I love to ride, now. It’s my passion. As long as I stay healthy, I’m going to ride.”

Trainer Buff Bradley said his friend just needed time to “figure out himself” after the jockey felt pressured to retire while a previous relationship was disintegrating.

“He’s almost like a little kid again; he’s so happy about the baby, showing pictures of the ultrasound,” Bradley said. “It’s given him a new meaning and fulfilling another part of his life. He’s always been very motivated with his riding, but I think now he feels like he’s doing it for more than just himself.”

Look for Borel's kids to be among the many children at Ellis Park for years to come.

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