BALTIMORE - Street Sense trainer Carl Nafzger said his pre-Kentucky Derby instructions to jockey Calvin Borel were simply this: "You love to ride races. Have fun."
Nafzger could have added: Go ahead and shed tears of unbridled joy as soon as you cross the finish line, invoke the name of your dead daddy on national TV as you talk about that moment being the best of your life, realize that the invitation to visit the White House isn't some prank, trade quips with the president, have him introduce you to Queen Elizabeth II, decline Jay Leno's entreaty to appear on the Tonight Show because you've got horses to ride, and expect your personal Cajun tale to be told all over the land.
"Right now, I'm just going to ride the ride," Borel said this morning upon his arrival at Pimlico Race Course.
He was talking about more than just getting on his horse, and professed confidence that tonorrow's 132d Preakness Stakes wouldn't be the end of it - that by tonight, Street Sense will be a step closer to horse racing's first Triple Crown in almost three decades.
"If he don't fall, there's no way he'll be getting beat," Borel proclaimed about the Kentucky Derby winner. "He has so many gears, you wouldn't imagine."
No worries about this being Borel's first time at Pimlico?
"It's the same thing - just turn left," said the jockey, who had a couple of mounts yesterday to get acquainted with Old Hilltop. "It's a racetrack."
But this one has famously tight turns.
"I was born and raised on a track like that," Borel said. "At Delta, it's like a bull ring."
All the extracurricular craziness since the Derby didn't get in the way of his preparations?
"There's nothing to prepare. I'm fit. I work seven days a week," Borel said. "I have a good clock in my head."
Most important, Borel sounds convinced that he doesn't need the dream trip he got along the rail at Churchill Downs, when Street Sense went from 17th place to fourth in two breathtaking furlongs.
"He's the kind of horse, he makes his own trips," Borel said. "If he needs to go around, he will."
Nobody knocks his horse, but not everyone is convinced things will go so smoothly today. Washington Post columnist and handicapping guru Andrew Beyer gives Derby runner-up Hard Spun a real chance to turn the tables, since this is a different kind of race. Beyer pointed out that since 1990, eight horses have won the Derby by rallying from 12th place or farther behind, and seven of them ran in the Preakness, and all of them lost.
If Hard Spun - who is owned by Rick Porter of Wilmington, and dropped to the ground at Betty Moran's Brushwood Stable in Malvern, just off Sugartown Road - can't quite get another big race, there are other ways Street Sense could go down. Borel mentioned that he expects previously undefeated Curlin to "improve a little bit" after getting some necessary education in the heavy traffic of the Derby. Todd Pletcher has a couple of horses, Circular Quay and King of the Roxy, looking to get this decade's leading stakes-winning trainer off his personal Triple Crown schneid. And Xchanger has a little wise-guy support, given his freshness and proven ability to run at Pimlico. D. Wayne Lukas, who has saddled five Preakness winners, is looking for the pace to be set by his horse, Flying First Class, although getting the distance will be a problem for him.
To this point, Borel is the rubbery face of this year's Triple Crown series. Even President Bush knew the gist of his story, how this son of a French-speaking Louisiana sugarcane sharecropper got on his first horse at age 2, left school for good in the eighth grade, and was riding races in the fields before he ever saw a racetrack. Upon Borel's arrival at the White House two days after his Derby win, the President greeted him with a hug.
"Where'd you steal that tuxedo?" President Bush kidded him.
"I found it by the side of the road," Borel bantered.
The jockey was the surprise special guest at a white-tie state dinner for the queen of England, since Queen Elizabeth II had been at Churchill for the Derby and is known to be a big horseracing fan, not above handicapping the races back home.
"The most memorable thing was probably being in the limo," Borel said, recalling his arrival at the White House, how he went from the darkness of the inside of that limousine to flash bulbs going off everywhere. "The paparazzi was outside and it scared the you-know-what out of me."
"It was wonderful," Borel said of meeting the president. "He made me feel at home. I walked in, he hugged me and said, 'This is the man of the hour.' And then he introduced me to the queen. It was awesome."
And what did the queen have to say?
"She just told me congratulations," Borel said. "She knew what was going on."
Borel took the whole thing in stride, especially compared to the reception in his own Louisville neighborhood when he drove home the night of the Derby.
"They had a banner, balloons - they sang a song about me and Street Sense," Borel said. "It was unbelievable. It was about 15 kids - 5- 6-year-olds - and it was the dangest thing I'd ever seen in my life. It made me cry."
Yesterday, this 40-year-old man who is "about as worldly as the horse he rode in on" - as an ESPN.com columnist wrote this week with affection - kept his priorities lined up. Borel spent a minute talking about meeting the president and the queen, and 20 more minutes talking about that horse he rode in on.
"He's given me my dream come true," Borel said. "So I'm going to do my best to try and pay him back."