Super Saver superb
By Beth Harris
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The starting gate sprung open in the Kentucky Derby, with 19 horses scrambling for position. One jockey knew exactly where he was headed.
Calvin Borel deftly tucked Super Saver along the rail yesterday on a track turned into creamy peanut butter by heavy rain. Once again, he was in his favorite spot, getting a clear path all the way through the goo.
That's why they call him "Bo-rail" and, for the third time in four years, he took the shortest path to the winner's circle.
Borel found only one horse in his way, and once he steered Super Saver around front-running Conveyance, another Run for the Roses was his.
The most wide-open Derby in years ended with a sure thing — Borel crossing the finish line and punching the air with this right fist.
"I knew nothing was going to run him down," he said, referring to his bay colt.
The jockey's magic touch on his home track gave trainer Todd Pletcher his first Derby victory after 24 failures with a 2 1/2-length victory over Ice Box.
"Calvin Borel is a great rider anywhere he goes, but at Churchill Downs he's even five lengths better," Pletcher said. "He knows how to ride this track and gets along with his colt beautifully."
Borel's ride at his home track nearly duplicated the one he turned in last year aboard 50-1 shot Mine That Bird, except he and Super Saver went off at lower odds and were never in last place.
Now the trio heads to Baltimore for the Preakness on May 15.
"Calvin already said he's going to win the Triple Crown," Pletcher said, "so I guess we'd better go there."
The Triple Crown was last won 32 years ago by Affirmed. The last Derby winner to break from Super Saver's No. 4 post was 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.
Yesterday, Borel was confident enough in his colt and his knowledge of the track to take him off the lead in the early going of the 1-1/4-mile race. In all but one of his six previous races, Super Saver had never been farther back than second in the early stages.
Borel knew that strategy wouldn't work in a 20-horse Derby field on a tiring, sloppy track that had been pelted by heavy rain early in the day. So they hugged the rail in sixth place, while many of his rivals were well off the fence in the muck.
"We all know what he's going to do," said Robby Albarado, who finished 14th aboard Dean's Kitten. "He just does it anyway."
Said Borel: "I was just taught it's the shortest way around."
Super Saver was timed in 2:04.45 as the 8-1 second-choice behind favorite Lookin At Lucky, whose 6-1 odds tied Harlan's Holiday in 2002 for the longest priced favorite in 136 runnings. He paid $18, $8.80 and $6.
Pletcher let out a whoop after his colt crossed the finish line, snapping a skid the Eclipse Award-winning trainer was eager to end.
"It will all soak in in a day or two," he said. "Now that it's happened, you just kind of don't know what to feel or say."
He seemed to have a lock on his first Derby win until expected favorite Eskendereya was withdrawn last weekend with a swollen leg. That left Pletcher with four horses in the race, but none as highly regarded.
His other finishers were: Mission Impazible, ninth; filly Devil May Care, 10th; and Discreetly Mine, 13th.
Pletcher's only other Triple Crown race victory was in 2007 at Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches. The lack of a Derby win by the 42-year-old former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas was the most glaring omission on his resume and something he was constantly asked about.
"It's the one thing that was important to me," Pletcher said. "The one thing I wanted to do while my parents were still here to see it."
Borel is the first jockey to win three Derbys in four years; Bill Hartack won three from 1960-64.
"Calvin Borel is amazing. He is fearless," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He takes control of the race ... he's a great rider."
Baffert's Lookin At Lucky wound up sixth, clearly compromised by starting on the rail. His other colt, Conveyance, finished 15th after setting the pace for more than three-quarters of a mile.
Trained by Nick Zito, Ice Box returned $11.20 and $8. Paddy O'Prado was another neck back in third and paid $7.40 to show.