LEXINGTON, KY (April 23, 2017) – Shane Borel is as close to being a jockey as possible without getting on a horse.
Borel is a valet (pronounced “vall-ett”), who helps trainers saddle their horses before each race and cares for jockeys’ gear. Valets are employed by Keeneland and earn bonuses directly from the jockeys based on their winnings.
A Keeneland valet since 2002, Borel (left) has Brian Hernandez Jr., Corey Lanerie and Jose Ortiz in his care. His best-known client is his uncle Calvin Borel, the Hall of Famer and three-time Kentucky Derby (G1) winner.
“My corner of the jockey’s room is pretty strong,” he said.
On race days, Borel arrives at the Jockeys Quarters around 9 a.m. to prepare for the day. His tasks include polishing his jockeys’ boots and organizing their tack and other equipment.
Borel and the other valets, who wear Keeneland green polo shirts and khaki pants, carry saddles and related items to the Paddock to meet trainers before each race. After the valet places the saddle on the horse’s back from the right side, the trainer tightens the girth from the left. For a more secure fit, the valet can snug the girth even more from the right. The valet and trainer then wrap another girth over the saddle.
After the race, the jockey unsaddles his mount and hands the saddle to the valet, who carries it back to the Jockeys Quarters.
“Our first responsibility is to do our jobs – saddling the horses – for the track,” he said. “Our No. 1 responsibility is to work for the track because without getting hired to (help) saddle the horses, we cannot be in the Jockeys Quarters to work for the riders.”
Borel certainly knows his way around the track. He grew up in the racing-rich region of Southern Louisiana, where his father, Carol, and mother, Diane, worked hands-on with the horses they raced.
Prior to becoming a valet, he spent 26 years as an exercise rider at Louisiana Downs in the northern part of the state and at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas before landing in Kentucky in 1994. Now as a valet at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, he is as involved in racing as ever.
“I love everything about Keeneland – the place, the prestige, the crowds, the way people treat you,” he said. “The list goes on and on. It is a very classy place.”