Tears are now a part of horse racing, and we learned just recently that even when old ones dry, new tears inevitably well up. This is why this week isn't really about year-old memories of a fantastic horse named Barbaro and it isn't about the ocean's worth of tears shed on his behalf.
If you're looking for someone worth rooting for at Saturday's Preakness, you won't find him in this new batch of 3-year-olds, either, whether you're Flying First Class or you've got a bit of Street Sense. In fact, the fresh tears don't have much to do with a horse at all.
"Calvin, you've won over 4,000 races, but this is your first Kentucky Derby," NBC track reporter Donna Barton Brothers said a week and a half ago at Churchill Downs. "What are your feelings?"
Calvin Borel's words - each syllable dripping with charming Cajun cadence - had to fight their way upstream just to get out. "I just want to thank my brother to get me here," Borel said. "I wish my momma and daddy was here. This is the most greatest moment of my life."
Instantly, there was a face attached to this year's run at a Triple Crown, and for once, it wasn't a horse's.
In stark contrast to the sport's 2006 coverboy, this year's superstar stands on two legs, his personality is always on display and it's pretty clear that it was his riding skills - not his horse's running skills - that has Street Sense the likely favorite in Saturday's race.
That's the funny thing about horse racing, how its most famous celebrities and biggest money-earners sleep in a barn. It's a sport rich with colorful, Twain-esque characters, but who hears about them? The casual fan remembers Affirmed, not Steve Cauthen, and Secretariat, not Ron Turcotte. Can you imagine the NASCAR marketing machine directing its spotlight on the car, not the driver?
Finally, horse racing's most riveting story line involves an actual person - and a pretty likable one at that.
"What people saw after the Derby, that was the Calvin Borel we all know," said Tom Amos, a veteran trainer who's worked with Borel for more than two decades. "He won the Derby and what you saw, those were his pure emotions. That's why he resonates so well with so many people."
Well, that's not the only thing. Unless you saw Borel on the mount riding the rail around the final turn, in this sport of kings, you wouldn't know him from a servant boy. When he smiles, his face creases up like a paper bag, his features humbly taking shelter in the folds.
He's the reason Queen Elizabeth II left the United States and her favorite stop wasn't Jamestown or Washington. It was Churchill Downs. And he's the reason President Bush could feel comfortable cracking a couple of jokes at a white-tie dinner last week.
"Where'd you steal that tuxedo?" the president asked the jockey.
"Found it on the side of the road," Borel said.
Said Bobby Barnett, another trainer who worked with Borel when the jockey was cutting his teeth racing in the bayou of Louisiana: "I can't think of anyone else I'd rather see up there representing our sport. Even the Queen saw how much respect and love he has for horses. I've known him since 1986 and I don't care if it's the Queen or someone mucking hay in the barn, everyone likes Calvin."
He's Chance the Gardner and Forrest Gump. He's unassuming and understated.
According to ESPN.com, at the white-tie White House dinner, Borel rubbed shoulders with the likes of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and current Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. He dined on saddle of spring lamb and spring pea soup with fern leaf lavender, and he sat next to one of the president's daughters and another famous athlete.
"A football player," he told ESPN.com. "I forget his name."
The name was Peyton Manning, but who has time for such trivialities? Not Borel, who skipped out on a Jay Leno invitation last week because he preferred spending some time around his horse. That's just his style.
Borel's father was a sugar cane farmer in St. Martin Parish, La., and he was basically raised by his older brother Cecil. Borel dropped out of school in the eighth grade to spend more time around horses and that's all he's really known for 30 years.
"He's the kind of guy, just true-blue, completely genuine," Amos says. "There's never no false coating on him. No bravado."
Borel's a throwback, they keep saying, not like these prima donna jockeys you see today. He's still up bright and early each morning, and after more than 4,300 career wins, he's still acting as though a mount in the afternoon depends on how he works the horse in the morning.
Calvin Borel has finally been matched with a horse poised to make history, and the prospects are certainly refreshing. For at least the time being, the sport of horse racing has a face - a human face, at that - and if we happen to see tears flowing down it at Pimlico Race Course, odds are they'll be accompanied by cheering this time, not crying.